BOUGHT WITH THE INCOME
OF THE SAGE ENDOWMENT
FUND GIVEN IN 1891 BY
HENRY WILLIAMS SAGE
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APR 3 1947"K
FRAGILE DOES NOT
* w ***r-® 6 faQ. v CIRCULATE
with care, as
\GILE DOES NOT
Cornell University Library
PS 1922.W4 1900
The web of life,
1924 006 397 982
The original of this book is in
the Cornell University Library.
There are no known copyright restrictions in
the United States on the use of the text.
"Bear from the spirit world this mystery :
Creation is summed up, O man, in thee;
Angel and demon, man and beast, art thou,
Tea, thou art all thou dost appear to be!"
THE WEB OF LIFE
The young surgeon examined the man as he lay on
the hospital chair in which ward attendants had left him.
The surgeon's ringers touched him deftly, here and there,
as if to test the endurance of the flesh he had to deal
with. The head nurse followed his swift movements,
wearily moving an incandescent light hither and thither,
observing the surgeon with languid interest. Another
nurse, much younger, without the " black band," watched
the surgeon from the foot of the cot. Beads of perspi-
ration chased themselves down her pale face, caused less
by sympathy than by sheer weariness and heat. The
small receiving room of St. Isidore's was close and stuffy,
surcharged with odors of iodoform and ether. The
Chicago spring, so long delayed, had blazed with a
sudden fury the last week in March, and now at ten
o'clock not a capful of air strayed into the room, even
through the open windows that faced the lake.
The patient groaned when the surgeon's fingers first
touched him, then relapsed into the spluttering, labored
respiration of a man in liquor or in heavy pain. A stolid
young man who carried the case of instruments freshly
steaming from their antiseptic bath made an observation
2 THE WEB OP LIFE
which the surgeon apparently did not hear. He was
thinking, now, his thin face set in a frown, the upper
teeth biting hard over the under lip and drawing up the
pointed beard. While he thought, he watched the man
extended on the chair, watched him like an alert cat, to
extract from him some hint as to what he should do.
This absorption seemed to ignore completely the other
occupants of the room, of whom he was the central,
commanding figure. The head nurse held the lamp care-
lessly, resting her hand over one hip thrown out, her
figure drooping into an ungainly pose. She gazed at the
surgeon steadily, as if puzzled at his intense preoccupa-
tion over the common case of a man "shot in a row."
Her eyes travelled over the surgeon's neat-fitting evening
dress, which was so bizarre here in the dingy receiving
room, redolent of bloody tasks. Evidently he had been
out to some dinner or party, and when the injured man
was brought in had merely donned his rumpled linen
jacket with its right sleeve half torn from the socket.
A spot of blood had already spurted into the white bosom
of his shirt, smearing its way over the pearl button, and
running under the crisp fold of the shirt. The head nurse
was too tired and listless to be impatient, but she had
been called out of hours on this emergency case, and she
was not used to the surgeon's preoccupation. Such
things usually went off rapidly at St. Isidore's, and she
could hear the tinkle of the bell as the hall door opened
for another case. It would be midnight before she could
get back to bed ! The hospital was short-handed, as usual.
The younger nurse was not watching the patient, nor
THE WEB OF LIFE 3
the good-looking young surgeon, who seemed to be the
special property of her superior. Even in her few
months of training she had learned to keep herself calm
and serviceable, and not to let her mind speculate idly.
She was gazing out of the window into the dull night.
Some locomotives in the railroad yards just outside were
puffing lazily, breathing themselves deeply in the damp,
spring air. One hoarser note than the others struck
familiarly on the nurse's ear. That was the voice of the
engine on the ten-thirty through express, which was
waiting to take its train to the east. She knew that
engine's throb, for it was the engine that stood in the
yards every evening while she made her first rounds for
the night. It was the one which took her train round the
southern end of the lake, across the sandy fields, to
Michigan, to her home.
The engine puffed away, and she withdrew her gaze
and glanced at the patient. To her, too, the wounded
man was but a case, another error of humanity that had
come to St. Isidore's for temporary repairs, to start once
more on its erring course, or, perhaps, to go forth unfin-
ished, remanded just there to death. The ten-thirty
express was now pulling out through the yards in a
powerful clamor of clattering switches and hearty pulsa-
tions that shook the flimsy walls of St. Isidore's, and drew
new groans from the man on the chair. The young nurse's
eyes travelled from him to a woman who stood behind
the ward tenders, shielded by them and the young interne
from the group about the hospital chair. This woman,
having no uniform of any sort, must be some one who
4 THE "WEB OF LIFE
had come in with the patient, and had stayed unobserved
in the disorder of a night case.
Suddenly the surgeon spoke; his -words shot out at
the head nurse.
" We •will operate now ! "
The interne shrugged his shoulders, but he busied him-
self in selecting and wiping the instruments. Yet in spite
of his decisive words the surgeon seemed to hesitate.
" Was there any one with this man, — any friend ? " he
asked the head nurse.
In reply she looked around vaguely, her mind thrown
out of gear by this unexpected delay. Another freak of
the handsome surgeon !
" Any relative or friend ? " the surgeon iterated per-
emptorily, looking about at the attendants.
The little nurse at the foot of the patient, who was
not impressed by the irregularity of the surgeon's request,
pointed mutely to the figure behind the ward tenders.
The surgeon wheeled about and glanced almost savagely
at the woman, his eyes travelling swiftly from her head
to her feet. The woman thus directly questioned by the
comprehending glance returned his look freely, resent-
fully. At last when the surgeon's eyes rested once more
on her face, this time more gently, she answered :
" 1 am his wife."
This statement in some way humanized the scene.
The ward tenders and the interne stared at her blankly ;
the nurses looked down in unconscious comment on the
twisted figure by their side. The surgeon drew his hands
from his pockets and stepped toward the woman, ques-
THE WEB OF LIFE 5
tioning her meanwhile with his nervous, piercing glance.
For a moment neither spoke, but some kind of mute ex-
planation seemed to be going on between them.
She kept her face level with his, revealing it bravely,
perhaps defiantly. Its tense expression, with a few
misery-laden lines, answered back to the inquiry of the
nonchalant outsiders : ' Yes, I am his wife, his wife,
the wife of the object over there, brought here to the hos-
pital, shot in a saloon brawl.' And the surgeon's face,
alive with a new preoccupation, seemed to reply : ' Yes,
I know ! You need not pain yourself by telling me.'
» The patient groaned again, and the surgeon came back
at once to the urgent present — the case. He led the
way to one side, and turning his back upon the group
of assistants he spoke to the woman in low tones.
" This man, your husband, is pretty badly off. He's
got at least two bullets in bad places. There isn't much
chance for him — in his condition," he explained
brusquely, as if to reconcile his unusual procedure with
" But I should operate," he continued; " I shall operate
unless there are objections — unless you object."
His customary imperious manner was struggling with
a special feeling for this woman before him. She did
not reply, but waited to hear where her part might come
in. Her eyes did not fall from his face.
" There's a chance," the surgeon went on, " that a cer-
tain operation now will bring him around all right.
But to-morrow will be too late."
His words thus far had something foolish in them, and
6 THE WEB OF LIFE
her eyes seemed to say so. If it was the only chance,
and his custom was to operate in such cases, — if he would
have operated had she not been there, why did he go
through this explanation?
"There may be — complications in his recovery," he
said at last, in low tones. "The recovery may not be
She did not seem to understand, and the surgeon
frowned at his failure, after wrenching from himself
this frankness. The idea, the personal idea that he
had had to put out of his mind so often in operating
in hospital cases, — that it made little difference whether,
indeed, it might be a great deal wiser if the operation
turned out fatally, — possessed his mind. Could she be
realizing that, too, in her obstinate silence? He tried
"If we do not operate, he will probably have a few
hours of consciousness — if you had something to say to
Her face flushed. He humiliated her. He must know
that she had nothing to say to Mm, as well as if he had
known the whole story.
"We could make him comfortable, and who knows,
to-morrow might not be too late ! " The surgeon ended
irritably, impatient at the unprofessional frankness of
his words, and disgusted that he had taken this woman
into his confidence. Did she want him to say : ' See here,
there's only one chance in a thousand that we can save
that carcass ; and if he gets that chance, it may not be a
whole one — do you care enough for him to run that
THE WEB OF LIFE 7
dangerous risk?' But she obstinately kept her own
counsel. The professional manner that he ridiculed so
often was apparently useful in just such cases as this.
It covered up incompetence and hypocrisy often enough,
but one could not be human and straightforward with
women and fools. And women and fools made up the
greater part of a doctor's business.
Yet the voice that said, " I am his wife," rang through
his mind and . suggested doubts. Under the miserable
story that he had instinctively imaged, there probably lay
some tender truth.
"There's a chance, you see!" he resumed more ten-
derly, probing her for an evidence. " All any of us have,
except that he is not in a condition for an operation."
This time her mouth quivered. She was struggling for
words. " Why do you ask me ? " she gasped. " What — "
but her voice failed her.
"I should operate," the surgeon replied gently, antici-
pating her question. " I, we should think it better that
way, only sometimes relatives object."
He thought that he had probed true and had found
what he was after. ;:'
"It is a chance," she said audibly, finding hef" voice.
" You must do what you think — best. I have nothing
to say to him. You need not delay for that."
"Very well," the surgeon replied, relieved that his
irregular confidence had resulted in the conventional
decision, and that he had not brought on himself a
responsibility shared with her. "You had best step
into the office. You can do no good here."
8 THE WEB OF LIFE
Then, dismissing the unusual from his mind, he stepped
quickly back to the patient. The younger nurse was
bathing the swollen, sodden face with a piece of gauze ;
the head nurse, annoyed at the delay, bustled about, pre-
paring the dressings under the direction of the interne.
The wife had not obeyed the doctor's direction to leave
the room, however, and remained at the window, staring
out into the soft night. At last, when the preparations
were completed, the younger nurse came and touched
her. " You can sit in the office, next door ; they may be
some time," she urged gently.
As the woman turned to follow the nurse, the surgeon
glanced at her once more. He was conscious of her calm
tread, her admirable self-control. The sad, passive face
with its broad, white brow was the face of a woman who
was just waking to terrible facts, who was struggling to
comprehend a world that had caught her unawares. She
had removed her hat and was carrying it loosely in her
hand that had, fallen to her side. Her hair swept back
in two waves above the, temples with a simplicity that
made the head distinguished. Even the nurses' caps
betrayed stray curls or rolls. Her figure was large, and
the articulation was perfect as she walked, showing that
she had had the run of fields in her girlhood. Yet she
did not stoop as is the habit of country girls ; nor was
there any unevenness of physique due to hard, manual
As she passed the huddle of human flesh stretched
out in the wheel-chair, a wave of color swept over her
face. Then she looked up to the surgeon and seemed to
THE "WEB OF LIFE 9
eak to him, as to the one human being in a world
puppets. 'You understand; you understand. It is
rrible ! '
The surgeon's brown eyes answered hers, but he was
lzzled. Had he probed her aright? It was one of
ose intimate moments that come to nervously organized
sople, when the petty detail of acquaintanceship and
ct is needless, when each one stands nearly confessed
the other. And then she left the room.
The surgeon proceeded without a word, working in-
ntly, swiftly, dexterously. At first the head nurse was
busy in handling bowls and holding instruments to
ink, even professionally, of the operation. The interne,
>wever, gazed in admiration, emitting exclamations of
ilight as the surgeon rapidly took one step after an-
her. Then he was sent for something, and the head
irse, her chief duties performed, drew herself upright
ir a breath, and her keen, little black eyes noticed an
voluntary tremble, a pause, an uncertainty at a critical
oment in the doctor's tense arm. A wilful current
1 thought had disturbed his action. The sharp head
irse wondered if Dr. Sommers had had any wine that
r ening, but she dismissed this suspicion scornfully, as
ander against the ornament of the Surgical Ward of
;. Isidore's. He was tired: the languid summer air
ius early in the year would shake any man's nerve,
at the head nurse understood well that such a wavering
1 will or muscle must not occur again, or the hair-
■eadth chance the drunken fellow had
She watched that bared arm, her breath held. The long
10 THE WEB OF LIFE
square fingers closed once more with a firm grip on the
instrument. " Miss Lemoris, some No. 3 gauze." Then
not a sound until the thing was done, and the surgeon
had turned away to cleanse his hands in the bowl of
purple antiseptic wash.
"My!" the head nurse exclaimed, "Dr. Trip ain't
in it." But the surgeon's face wore a preoccupied, sombre
look, irresponsive to the nurse's admiration. While she
helped the interne with the complicated dressing, the
little nurse made ready for removal to the ward. Then
when one of the ward tenders had wheeled the muffled
figure into the corridor, she hurried across to the office.
" It's all over," she whispered blithely to the wife, who
sat in a dull abstraction, oblivious of the hospital flurry.
" And it's going to be all right, I just know. Dr. Som-
mers is so clever, he'd save a dead man. You had better
go now. No use to see him to-night, for he won't come
out of the opiate until near morning. You can come to-
morrow morning, and p'r'aps Dr. Sommers will get you
a pass in. Visitors only Thursdays and Sunday after-
She hurried off to her duties in the ward. The woman
did not rise at once. She did not readjust her thoughts
readily ; she seemed to be waiting in the chance of see-
ing some one. The surgeon did not come out of the
receiving room ; there was a sound of wheels in the cor-
ridor just outside the office door, followed by the sound
of shuffling feet. Through the open door she could see
two attendants wheeling a stretcher with a man lying
motionless upon it. They waited in the hall outside
THE WEB OF LIFE 11
under a gas-jet, which cast a flickering light upon the
outstretched form. This was the next case, which had
been waiting its turn while her husband was in the
receiving room, — a hand from the railroad yards, whose
foot had slipped on a damp rail ; now a pulpy, almost
shapeless mass, thinly disguised under a white sheet that
had fallen from his arms and head. She got up and
walked out of the room. She was not wanted there : the
hospital had turned its momentary swift attention to
another case. As she passed the stretcher, the bearers
shifted their burden to give her room. The form on the
stretcher moaned indistinctly.
She looked at the unsightly mass, in her heart envious
of his condition. There were things in this world much
more evil than this bruised flesh of what had once been a
The next morning Dr. Sommers took his successor
through the surgical ward. Dr. Raymond, whose place
he had been holding for a month, was a young, carefully
dressed man, fresh from a famous eastern hospital.
The nurses eyed him favorably. He was absolutely
correct. When the surgeons reached the bed marked 8,
Dr. Sommers paused. It was the case he had operated
on the night before. He glanced inquiringly at the
metal tablet which hung from the iron cross-bars above
the patient's head. On it was printed in large black
letters the patient's name, Arthur C. Preston ; on the
next line in smaller letters, Admitted March 26th. The
remaining space on the card was left blank to receive the
statement of regimen, etc. A nurse was giving the patient
an iced drink. After swallowing feebly, the man relapsed!
into a semi-stupor, his eyes opening and closing vacantly.|
As he lay under the covering of a sheet, his arms
thrust out bare from the short-sleeved hospital shirt, '.
his unshaven flushed face contrasting with the pallid|
and puffy flesh of neck and arms, he gave an impression
of sensuality emphasized by undress. The head was mas-
sive and well formed, and beneath the bloat of fever
and dissipation there showed traces of refinement. The <
soft hands and neat finger-nails, the carefully trimmed"!
THE WEB OF LIFE 13
hair, were sufficient indications of a kind of luxury. * The
animalism of the man, however, had developed so early
in life that it had obliterated all strong markings of char-
acter. The flaccid, rather fleshy features were those of
the sensual, prodigal young American, who haunts hotels.
Clean shaven and well dressed, the fellow would be in-
distinguishable from the thousands of overfed and over-
drunk young business men, to be seen every day in the
vulgar luxury of Pullman cars, hotel lobbies, and large
The young surgeon studied the patient thoughtfully.
He explained the case briefly to his successor, as he had
all the others, and before leaving the bed, he had the
nurse take the patient's temperature. "Only two de-
grees of fever," he commented mechanically ; " that is
very good. Has his wife — has any one been in to see
him ? " The head nurse, who stood like an automaton at
the foot of the bed, replied that she had seen no one ; in
any case, the doorkeeper would have refused permission
unless explicit orders had been given.
Then the doctors continued their rounds, followed by
the correct head nurse. When they reached the end of the
ward, Dr. Sommers remarked disconnectedly: "No. 8
there, the man with the gun-shot wounds, will get well,
I think ; but I shouldn't wonder if mental complications
followed. I have seen cases like that at the BicStre,
where operations on an alcoholic patient produced
paresis. The man got well," he added harshly, as if
kicking aside some dull formula; "but he was a hope-
14 THE WEB OF LIFE
The new surgeon stared politely without replying.
Such an unprofessional and uncalled-for expression of
opinion was a new experience to him. In the Boston
hospital resident surgeons did not make unguarded
confidences even to their colleagues.
The two men finished their inspection without further
incident, and went to the ofiice to examine the system
of records. After Sommers had left his successor, he
learned from the clerk that " No. 8 " had been entered
as, " Commercial traveller ; shot three times in a saloon
row." Mrs. Preston had called, — from her and the police
this information came, — had been informed that her
husband was doing well, but had not asked to see him.
She had left an address at some unknown place a dozen
The surgeon's knowledge of the case ended there. As
in so many instances, he knew solely the point of tragedy :
the before and the after went on outside the hospital
walls, beyond his ken. While he was busy in getting,
away from the hospital, in packing up the few things
left in his room, he thought no more about Preston's case
or any case. But the last thing he did before leaving
St. Isidore's was to visit the surgical ward once more and
glance at No. 8's chart. The patient was resting quietly ;
there was every promise of recovery.
He left the grimy brick hospital, and made his way
toward the rooms he had engaged in a neighborhood
farther south. The weather was unseasonably warm
and enervating, and he walked slowly, taking the broad
THE WEBOF LIFE 15
boulevard in preference to. the more noisome avenues,
which were thick with slush and mud. It was early in the
afternoon, and the few carriages on the boulevard were
standing in front of the fashionable garment shops that
occupied the city end of the drive. He had an unusual,
oppressive feeling of idleness ; it was the first time since
he had left the little Ohio college, where he had spent
his undergraduate years, that he had known this empti-
ness of purpose. There was nothing for him to do now,
except to dine at the Hitchcocks' to-night. There would
be little definite occupation probably for weeks, months,
until he found some practice. Always hitherto, there
had been a succession of duties, tasks, ends that he set
himself one on the heels of another, occupying his mind,
relieving his will of all responsibility.
He was cast out now from his youth, as it were, at
thirty-two, to find his place in the city, to create his
little world. And for the first time since he had entered
Chicago, seven months before, the city wore a face of
strangeness, of complete indifference. It hummed on,
like a self-absorbed machine : all he had to do was not
to get caught in it, involved, wrecked. For nearly a
year he had been a part of it ; and yet busy as he had
been in the hospital, he had not sought to place himself
strongly. He had gone in and out, here and there, for
amusement, but he had returned to the hospital. Now
the city was to be his home : somewhere in it he must
dig his own little burrow.
Unconsciously his gait expressed his detachment. He
sauntered idly, looking with fresh curiosity at the big,
16 THE WEB OP LIEE
smoke-darkened houses on the boulevard. At Twenty-
Second Street, a cable train clanged its way harshly
across his path. As he looked up, he caught sight of the
lake at the end of the street, — a narrow blue slab of
water between two walls. The vista had a strangely
foreign air. But the street itself, with its drays lumber-
ing into the hidden depths of slimy pools, its dirty,
foot-stained cement walks, had the indubitable aspect of
Along the boulevard carriages were passing more fre-
quently. The clank of metal chains, the beat of hoofa
upon the good road-bed, sounded smartly on the ear.
The houses became larger, newer, more flamboyant;
richly dressed, handsome women were coming and going
between them and their broughams. When Sommers
turned to look back, the boulevard disappeared in the
vague, murky region of mephitic cloud, beneath which the
husbands of those women were toiling, striving, creating.
He walked on and on, enjoying his leisure, speculating idly
about the people and the houses. At last, as he neared
Fortieth Street, the carriages passed less frequently. He
turned back with a little chill, a feeling that he had left
the warm, living thing and was too much alone. This
time he came through Prairie and Calumet Avenues.
Here, on the asphalt pavements, the broughams and
hansoms rolled noiselessly to and fro among the opulent
houses with tidy front grass plots and shining steps.
The avenues were alive with afternoon callers. At sev-
eral points there were long lines of carriages, attending
a reception, or a funeral, or a marriage.
THE WEB OP LIFE 17
The air and the relaxation of all purpose tired him.
The scene of the previous evening hung about his mind,
coloring the abiding sense of loneliness. His last triumph
in the delicate art of his profession had given him no ex-
hilarating sense of power. He saw the woman's face, miser-
able and submissive, and he wondered. But he brought
himself up with a jerk : this was the danger of permit-
ting any personal feeling or speculation to creep into
In his new rooms on Twenty-Eighth Street, there was
an odor of stale tobacco, permeating the confusion created
by a careless person. Dresser had been occupying them
lately. He had found Sam Dresser, whom he had known
as a student in Europe, wandering almost penniless down
State Street, and had offered him a lodging-place.
" How did it come out ? " Sommers asked the big, blond
young man with a beer-stained mustache.
The big fellow stopped, before answering, to stuff a
pipe with tobacco, punching it in with a fat thumb.
"They'll give me a job — mean one — three dollars a
day — nine to five — under the roof in a big loft, tenth
story — with a lot of women hirelings. Regular sweat-
shop — educational sweat-shop."
Sommers took up some letters from the table and
"Well, I've got to scare up some patients to live on,
even to make three dollars a day."
"You!" Dresser exclaimed, eying the letters with
naive envy. " You are pals with the fat-fed capitalists.
18 THE WEB OF LIFE
They will see that you get something easy, and one of
these days you will marry one of their daughters. Then
you will join the bank accounts, and good-by."
He continued to rail, half jestingly, half in earnest, at
McNamara and Hills, — where he had obtained work,
thanks to a letter which Sommers had procured for
him, — at his companion's relations with the well-to-do,
which he exaggerated offensively, and at the well-
"It was lucky for you," Sommers remarked good-
humoredly, "that I was thick enough with the blood-
suckers to get you that letter from Hitchcock. One of
us will have to stand in with the ' swilling, fat-fed capi-
" Are those Hitchcocks rich ? " Dresser asked, his eye
resting wistfully on a square note that the young doctor
had laid aside.
"I suppose so," Sommers answered. "Shall we go
and have some beer?"
Dresser's blue eyes still followed the little pile of let-
ters — eyes hot with desires and regrets. A lust burned
in them, as his companion could feel instinctively, a lust
to taste luxury. Under its domination Dresser was not
unlike the patient in No. 8.
"When they turned into the boulevard, which was
crowded at this hour of twilight, men were driving
themselves home in high carts, and through the
windows of the broughams shone the luxuries of
evening attire. Dresser's glance shifted from face to
face, from one trap to another, sucking in the glitter
THE WEB OP LIFE 19
of the showy scene. The flashing procession on the
boulevard pricked his hungry senses, goaded his am-
bitions. The men and -women in the carriages were
the bait; the men and women on the street sniffed it,
"There's plenty of swag in the place," Dresser re-
The Hitchcocks and the Sommerses came from the
same little village in Maine ; they had moved west,
about the same time, a few years before the Civil War :
Alexander Hitchcock to Chicago; the senior Dr. Som-
mers to Marion, Ohio. Alexander Hitchcock had been
colonel of the regiment in which Isaac Sommers served
as surgeon. Although the families had seen little of one
another since the war, yet Alexander Hitchcock's greet-
ing to the young doctor when he met the latter in Paris
had been more than cordial. Something in the generous,
lingering hand-shake of the Chicago merchant had made
the younger man feel the strength of old ties.
"I knew your mother," Colonel Hitchcock had said>
smiling gently into the young student's face. " I knew
her very well, and your father, too, — he was a brave
man, a remarkable man."
He had sympathetically rolled the hand he still re-
tained in his broad palm.
" If Marion had only been Chicago ! You say he died
two years ago? And your mother long ago? Where
will you settle ? "
With this abrupt question, Dr. Sommers was taken
at once -into a kindly intimacy with the Hitchcocks.
Not long after this chance meeting there came to the
THE "WEB OF LIFE 21
young surgeon an offer of a post at St. Isidore's. In the
vacillating period of choice, the successful merchant's
counsel had had a good deal of influence with Sommers.
And his persistent kindliness since the choice had been
made had done much to render the first year in Chicago
agreeable. 'We must start you right,' he had seemed
to say. ' We mustn't lose you.'
Those pleasant days in Paris had been rendered more
memorable to the young doctor by the friendship that
came about between him and Miss Hitchcock — a
friendship quite independent of anything her family
might feel for him. She let him see that she made her
own world, and that she would welcome him as a member
of it. Accustomed as he had been only to the primitive
daughters of the local society in Marion and Exonia, or
the chance intercourse with unassorted women in Phila-
delphia, where he had taken his medical course, and in
European pensions, Louise Hitchcock presented a very
definite and delightful picture. That it was but one
generation from Hill's Crossing, Maine, to this self-
possessed, carefully finished young woman, was unbeliev-
able. Tall and finished in detail, from the delicate
hands and fine ears to the sharply moulded chin, she
presented a puzzling contrast to the short, thick, sturdy
figure of her mother. And her quick appropriation of
the blessings of wealth, her immediate enjoyment of the
aristocratic assurances that the Hitchcock position had
given her in Chicago, showed markedly in contrast with
the tentativeness of Mrs. Hitchcock. Louise Hitchcock
handled her world with perfect self-command ; Mrs.
22 THE WEB OE LIFE
Hitchcock was rather breathless over every manifestation
of social change.
. Parker Hitchcock, the son, Sommers had not seen
until his coming to Chicago. At a first glance, then, he
could feel that in the son the family had taken a further
leap from the simplicity of the older generation. Inci-
dentally the young man's cool scrutiny had instructed
him that the family had not committed Parker Hitch-
cock to him. Young Hitchcock had returned recently to
the family lumber yards on the West Side and the
family residence on Michigan Avenue, with about equal
disgust, so Sommers judged, for both milieux. Even
more than his sister, Parker was conscious of the dif-
ference between the old state of things and the new.
Society in Chicago was becoming highly organized, a
legitimate business of the second generation of wealth.
The family had the money to spend, and at Yale in
winter, at Newport and Beverly and Bar Harbor in
summer, he had learned how to spend it, had watched
admiringly how others spent their wealth. He had
begun to educate his family in spending, — in using to
brilliant advantage the fruits of thirty years' hard work
and frugality. With his cousin Caspar Porter he main-
tained a small polo stable at Lake Hurst, the new
country club. On fair days he left the lumber yards at
noon, while Alexander Hitchcock was still shut in behind
the dusty glass doors of his office. His name was much
oftener in the paragraphs of the city press than his
parents': he was leading the family to new ideals.
Ideals, Sommers judged, that werejiot agreeable to
THE WEB OP LIFE 23
old Colonel Hitchcock, slightly menacing even in the
eyes of the daughter, whose horizon was wider. Som-
mers had noticed the little signs of this heated family
atmosphere. A mist of undiscussed views hung about the
house, out of which flashed now and then a sharp speech,
a bitter sigh. He had been at the house a good deal in
a thoroughly informal manner. The Hitchcocks rarely
entertained in the "new" way, for Mrs. Hitchcock had
a terror of formality. A dinner, as she understood it,
meant a gathering of a few old friends, much hearty food
served in unpretentious abundance, and a very little bad
wine. The type of these entertainments' had improved
lately under Miss Hitchcock's influence, but it remained
essentially the same, — an occasion for copious feeding
and gossipy, neighborly chat.
To-night, as Sommers approached the sprawling green
stone house on Michigan Avenue, there were signs of
unusual animation about the entrance. As he reached
the steps a hansom deposited the bulky figure of Brome
Porter, Mrs. Hitchcock's brother-in-law. The older man
scowled interrogatively at the young doctor, as if to say :
' You here ? What the devil of a crowd has Alec raked
together ? ' But the two men exchanged essential cour-
tesies and entered the house together.
Porter, Sommers had heard, had once been Alexander
Hitchcock's partner in the lumber business, but had
withdrawn from the firm years before. Brome Porter
was now a banker, as much as he was any one thing.
It was easy to see that the pedestrian business of sell-
ing lumber would not satisfy Brome Porter. Popularly
24 THE "WEB OF LIFE
"rated at five millions," his fortune had not come out
of lumber. Alexander Hitchcock, with all his thrift,
had not put by over a million. Banking, too, -would
seem to be a tame enterprise for Brome Porter. Mines,
railroads, land speculations — he had put his hand into
them all masterfully. Large of limb and awkward,
with a pallid, rather stolid face, he looked as if Chicago
had laid a heavy hand upon his liver, as if the Carlsbad
pilgrimage were a yearly necessity. ' Heavy eating and
drinking, strong excitements — too many of them,' com-
mented the professional glance of the doctor. 'Brute
force, padded superficially by civilization,' Sommers
added to himself, disliking Porter's cold eye shots at
him. ' Young man,' his little buried eyes seemed to say,
' young man, if you know what's good for you ; if you
are the right sort ; if you do the proper thing, we'll
push you. Everything in this world depends on being
in the right carriage.' Sommers was tempted whenever
he met him to ask him for a good tip : he seemed always
to have just come from New York ; and when this bar-
barian went to Borne, it was for a purpose, which ex-
pressed itself sooner or later over the stock-ticker. But
the tip had not come yet.
As Sommers was reaching the end of his conversa-
tional rope with Porter, other guests arrived. Among
them was Dr. Lindsay, a famous specialist in throat
diseases. The older doctor nodded genially to Sommers
with the air of saying: ' I am so glads. to find you here.
This is the right place for a promising young man.'
And Sommers in a flash suspected why he had been
THE WEB OP LIKE 27
Chicago merchant the air of a New England worthy.
And Alexander, in contrast with his brother-in-law, had
knotty hands and a tanned complexion that years of
" inside business " had not sufficed to smooth. The little
habit of kneading the palm which you felt when he shook
hands, and the broad, humorous smile, had not changed
as the years passed him on from success to success.
Mrs. Hitchcock still slurred the present participle and
indulged in other idiomatic freedoms that endeared her
to Sommers. These two, plainly, were not of the genera-
tion that is tainted by ambition. Their story was too well
known, from the boarding-house struggle to this sprawl-
ing stone house, to be worth the varnishing. Indeed,
they would not tolerate any such detractions from their
well-earned reputation. The Brome Porters might draw
distinctions and prepare for a new social aristocracy;
but to them old times were sweet and old friends dear.
As the guests gathered in the large "front room,"
Alexander Hitchcock stood above them, as the finest,
most courteous spirit. There was race in him — sweet-
ness and strength and refinement — the qualities of the
best manhood of democracy. This effect of simplicity
and sweetness was heightened in the daughter, Louise.
She had been born in Chicago, in the first years of
the Hitchcock fight. She remembered the time when
the billiard-room chairs were quite the most noted
possessions in the basement and three-story brick house
on West Adams Street. She had followed the chairs
in the course of the Hitchcock evolution until her
aunt had insisted on her being sent east to the Beau-
28 THE WEB OP LIFE
manor Park School. Two years of "refined influences"
in this famous establishment, with a dozen other girls
from new-rich families, had softened her tones and pro-
longed her participles, but had touched her not essen-
tially. Though she shared with her younger brother the
feeling that the Hitehcocks were not getting the most
out of their opportunities, she could understand the older
people more than he. If she sympathized with her
father's belief that the boy ought to learn to sell lumber,
or "do something for himself," yet she liked the fact
that he played polo. It was the right thing to be ener-
getic, upright, respected ; it was also nice to spend
your money as others did. And it was very, very nice
to have the money to spend.
To-night, as Sommers came across the hall to the draw-
ing-room, she left the group about the door to welcome
him. "Weren't you surprised," she asked him with
an ironical laugh, "at the people, I mean — all ages and.
kinds ? You see Parker had to be appeased. He didn't
want to stay, and I don't know why he should. So we
gave him Laura Lindsay." She nodded good-naturedly
in the direction of a young girl, whose sharp thin little
face was turned joyfully toward the handsome Parker.
" And we added our cousin Caspar, not for conversation,
but to give an illusion of youth and gayety. Caspar is
the captain of the polo team. By the way, what do you
think of polo ? "
"I never had occasion to think," the young doctor
replied, scrutinizing a heavy, florid-faced young man
whom he took to be Caspar Porter.
THE "WEB OE LIEE 29
" Well, polo is with us at breakfast and dinner. Papa
doesn't approve, doesn't believe in young men keeping a
stable as Caspar does. Mamma doesn't know what she
believes. I am arbitrator — it's terrible, the new genera-
tion," she broke off whimsically.
"Which has the right of it?" Sommers asked idly.
"The fathers who made the money, or the sons who
want to enjoy it ? "
" Both ; neither," she laughed back with an air of com-
fortable tolerance. She might have added, 'You see, I
like both kinds — you and Parker's set.'
" Do you know, Dr. Lindsay is here ? "
Sommers smiled as he replied, —
"Yes; was it arranged?"
The girl blushed, and moved away.
" He was anxious to meet you."
" Of course," the doctor replied ironically.
" I could tell you more," she added alluringly.
"I have no doubt. Perhaps you had better not,
Miss Hitchcock ceased to smile and looked at him
without reply. She had something on the tip of her
tongue to tell him, something she had thought of pleas-
antly for the last three days, but she suspected that this
man was not one who would like to take his good fortune ,
from a woman's hand.
" Dr. Lindsay is an old friend ; we have known him for
years." She spoke neutrally. Sommers merely nodded.
" He is very successful, very," she added, giving in to
her desire a little.
30 THE WEB OF LIFE
" Chicago is a good place for a throat specialist."
" He is said to be the most — "
"You know — has the largest income of any doctor in
Sommers did not reply. At length the girl ventured
" I hope you will be nice to him."
" There won't be any question of it." ,
" You can be so stiff, so set ; I have counted a great
deal on this."
"Politics, politics!" Sommers exclaimed awkwardly.
"Who is the man with Mr. Porter ? "
" Eailway Gazette Carson ? That's what he is called.
He swallows railroads — absorbs 'em. He was a lawyer.
They have a house on the North Side and a picture, a
Sargent. But I'll keep the story. Come! you must
meet Mrs. Lindsay."
"Politics, politics!" Sommers murmured to himself,
as Miss Hitchcock moved across the room.
At the table there were awkward silences, followed by
spasmodic local bursts of talk. Sommers, who sat
between Miss Hitchcock and Mrs. Lindsay, fell to listen-
ing to his host.
" I was taken for you to-day, Brome," Mr. Hitchcock
said, with a touch of humor in his voice.
Porter laughed at the apparent absurdity- of the
" I was detained at the office over at the yards. The
men and the girls had pretty nearly all gone. I was
just about to leave, when a fellow opened the door — he
looked like a Swede or a Norwegian.
" ' Is the boss here ? ' he asked.
" ' Yes,' said I ; ' what can I do for you ? '
" < I wants a yob, a yob, ' he shouted, ' and no
foolin'. I worked for de boss ten years and never lost
a day ! '
" I thought the man was drunk. ' Who did you work
for?' I asked. 'For Pullman, in de vorks,' he said;
then I saw how it was. He was one of the strikers, or
had lost his job before the strike. Some one told him
you were in with me, Brome, and a director of the Pull-
man works. He had footed it clear in from Pullman
to find you, to lay hands on you personally."
32 THE "WEB OF LIFE
Porter laughed rather grimly.
" That's the first sign ! " Carson exclaimed.
"They'll have enough of it before the works, open,"
Parker Hitchcock looked bored. Such things were
hot in good form ; they came from the trade element in
the family. His cousin Caspar had Miss Lindsay's atten-
tion. She was describing a Polish estate where she had
visited the preceding summer.
" Did you send him round to our office ? " Porter asked
Sommers's keen eyes rested on his host's face inquir-
" No-oh," Alexander Hitchcock drawled; " I had a talk
" They are rather dangerous people to talk with," Dr.
"He was a Norwegian, a big, fine-looking man. He
was all right. He couldn't talk much English, but he
knew that his folks were hungry. ' You gif me a yob,'
he kept saying, until I explained I wasn't in the business,
had nothing to do with the Pullman works. Then he sat
down and looked at the floor. ' I vas fooled.' Well, it
seems he did inlaying work, fine cabinet work, and got
good pay. He built a house for himself out in some
place, and he was fired among the first last winter, — I
guess because he didn't live in Pullman."
" That's the story they use," Brome Porter said scep-
tically. "You should call the watchman; they're apt to
THE WEB OF LIFE 33
" A crowd of 'em," put in Carson, " -were at the Pull-
man office this morning ; wanted to arbitrate."
He spoke deprecatingly of their innocence, but Por-
ter's tones were harsh.
"To arbitrate! to arbitrate! when we are making
money by having 'em quit."
Miss Hitchcock turned apprehensively to her compan-
ion. Her handsome, clear face was perplexed ; she was
distressed over the way the talk was going.
"It's as bad as polo!" she exclaimed, in low tones.
But the doctor did not hear her.
" Is it so," he was asking Colonel Hitchcock, " that the
men who had been thrifty enough to get homes outside
of Pullman had to go first because they didn't pay rent
to the company ? I heard the same story from a patient
in the hospital."
By this time Caspar Porter had turned his attention
to the conversation at the other end of the table. His
florid face was agape with astonishment at the doctor's
temerity. Parker Hitchcock shrugged his shoulders and
muttered something to Miss Lindsay. The older men
moved in their chairs. It was an unhappy topic for
dinuer conversation in this circle.
"Well, I don't know," Colonel Hitchcock replied, a
slight smile creeping across his face. " Some say yes,
and some say no. Perhaps Porter can tell you."
" We leave all that to the superintendent," the latter
replied stiffly. "I haven't looked into it. The works
isn't a hospital."
"That's a minor point," Carson added, in a high-
34 THE WEB OF LIFE
pitched voice. " The real thing is whether a corporation
can manage its own affairs as it thinks best or not."
"The thrifty and the shiftless," interposed Dr.
Lindsay, nodding to his young colleague.
"Well, the directors are a unit. That settles the
matter," Porter ended dogmatically. "The men may
starve, but they'll never get back now."
The young doctor's face set in rather rigid lines. He had
made a mistake, had put himself outside the sympathies of
this comfortable circle. Miss Hitchcock was looking into
the flowers in front of her, evidently searching for some
remark that would lead the dinner out of this uncomfort-
able slough, when Brome Porter began again sententiously :
"The laborer has got some hard lessons to learn.
This trouble is onTylTsmairpart of the bigger trouble.
He'w ants "fo^gej more than, he is .worth. And all our
education, the higher education, is a bM thing." He
"turned with marked emphasis toward the young doctor.
"That's why I wouldn't give a dollar to any begging
college —not a dollar to make a lot of discontented,
lazy duffers who go round exciting workingmen to think
they're badly treated. Every dollar given a man to
educate himself above his natural position is a dollar
given to disturb society."
Before Sommers could accept the challenge in this
speech, Miss Hitchcock asked, —
" But what did you do with your visitor, papa ? "
" Well, we had some more talk," he replied evasively.
"Maybe that's why I missed you, Brome, at the club.
He stayed most an hour."
THE WEB OF LIFE 35
" Did he go then ? " the girl pressed on mischievously.
" Well, I gave him a ' yob ' over at the yards. It
wasn't much of a 'yob,' though."
This speech aroused some laughter, and the talk
drifted on in little waves into safer channels. The "epi-
sode, however, seemed to have made an undue impression
upon Sommers. Miss Hitchcock's efforts to bring him into
the conversation failed. As for Mrs. Lindsay, he paid her
not the slightest attention. He was coolly taking his own
time to think, without any sense of social responsibility.
" What is the matter ? " his companion said to him at
last, in her low, insistent voice. " You are behaving so
badly. Why won't you do anything one wants you to ? "
Sommers glanced at his companion as if she had
shaken him out of a dream. Her dark eyes were gleam-
ing with irritation, and her mouth trembled.
" I had a vision," Sommers replied coolly.
" Well I " The man's egotism aroused her impatience,
but she lowered her head to catch every syllable of his
"I seemed to see things in a flash — to feel an iron
crust of prejudice."
The girl's brow contracted in a puzzled frown, but she
waited. The young doctor tried again to phrase the
"These people — I mean your comfortable rioh — seem
to havetaken a kind of oath of self -preservation. To
do what is expected of one, to succeed, you must take
the oath! You must ' defend their institutions, and all
that," he blundered on.
36 THE WEB OP LIFE
"I don't know -what you mean," the girl replied coolly,
haughtily, raising her head and glancing over the table.
'" I am not very clear. Perhaps I make a great deal
of nothing. My remarks sound ' young ' even to me."
"I don't pretend to understand these, questions. I
wish men wouldn't talk business at dinner. It is worse
than polo ! "
She swept his face with a glance of distrust, the lids of
her eyes half lowered, as if to put a barrier between them.
"Yes," Sommers assented; "it is harder to under-
It was curious, he thought, that a woman could take
on the new rights, the aristocratic attitude, so much
more completely than a man. Miss Hitchcock was a
full generation ahead of the others in her conception of
inherited, personal rights. As the dinner dragged on,
there occurred no further opportunity for talk until near
the end, when suddenly the clear, even tones of Miss
Hitchcock's voice brought his idle musing to an end.
" I hope you will talk with Dr. Lindsay. He is a very
able man. And," she hesitated a moment and then
looked frankly at him, "he can do so much for a young
doctor who has his way to make."
" Don't you think that might make it harder for me to
talk to him ? " Sommers asked, irritated by her lack of
The girl's face flushed, and she pressed her lips
together as if to push back a sharp reply.
" That is unfair. We are going now — but sometime
we must talk it out."
THE WEB OP LIFE 37
The men stretched themselves and rearranged their
chairs in little groups. Parker Hitchcock, Carson, and
young Porter were talking horses ; they made no effort to
include the young doctor in their corner. He wa? begin-
ning to feel uncomfortably stranded in the middle of the
long room, when Dr. Lindsay crossed to his side. The
talk at dinner had not put the distinguished specialist in
a sympathetic light, but the younger man felt grateful for
this act of cordiality. They chatted about St. Isidore's,
about the medical schools in Chicago, and the medical
societies. At last Dr. Lindsay suggested casually, as he
refilled his liqueur-glass :
"You have made some plans ? "
"No, not serious ones. I have thought of taking a
vacation. Then there is another hospital berth I could
have. Head of a small hospital in a mining town.
But I don't like to leave Chicago, on the whole."
" You are right," the older physician remarked slowly.
"Such a place would bury you; you would never be
Sommers smiled at the penalty held out, but he did
" There isn't any career in hospital work, anyway, for
a steady thing. You get side-tracked."
"I like it better than family practice," Sommers
jerked out. "You don't have to fuss with people,
women especially. Then I like the excitement of
" That won't last long," the older man smiled indul-
gently. "And you'll have a wife some day, who will
38 THE WEB OP LIFE
make you take a different view. But there are other
things — office practice."
He dilated on the advantages of office practice, while
the younger man smoked and listened deferentially.
Office practice offered a pleasant compromise between the
strenuous scientific work of the hospital and the grind of
family practice. There were no night visits, no dreary
work with the poor — or only as much as you cared to do,
— and it paid well, if you took to it. Sommers reflected
that the world said it paid Lindsay about fifty thousand
a year. It led, also, to lectureships, trusteeships — a
mass of affairs that made a man prominent and important
in the community.
Sommers listened attentively without questioning the
agreeable, tactful doctor. He could see that something
was in the air, that Lindsay was not a man to talk
with this degree of intimacy out of pure charity or
vanity. But the great specialist said nothing very definite
after all : he let fall, casually, the fact that good men
for office work — men of experience who were skilful
and tactful — were rare. He had just lost a valuable
doctor from his staff.
When the men returned to the drawing-room, Parker
Hitchcock and his cousin took themselves off. The
Lindsays went soon after. Sommers, who had regained
his good sense, tried to make his apologies to Miss
" Don't go yet," she answered cordially. " They will
all be disposed of soon, and we can have that talk.
Go and look at my prints."
THE WEB OP LIFE 39
In a few moments she came up behind him as he
was studying the brush work of a little canvas. "I
have been thinking of what you said at the table, Dr.
Sommers. I have tried to think what you mean, but
Her eyes opened in frank, tglerant inquiry. Sommers
had seen her like this a few times, and always with a
feeling of nearness.
" I don't believe that I can make you understand," he
" Try ! "
" The feelings that make us act are generally too vague
to be defended. All that I could do would be to describe
a mood, a passion that takes me now and then, and
makes me want to smash things."
She nodded her head comprehendingly.
"Yes, I know that."
" Not from the same reason," Sommers laughed.
" I will tell you what it is : you think the rich are
unfair. You didn't like Uncle Brome's talk about the
"No, and more than that," he protested; "I don't
know anything about the Pullman matter ; but I hate 1
the — successful. I guess that's about it." . j
"You think they are corrupt and luxurious and all
that ? "
As she spoke she waved one hand negligently toward
the Aurora in the hall. They both laughed at the un-
" If you feel like that here — "
40 THE WEB OP LIFE
" I feel that way pretty much all the time in America,"
he said bluntly. " It isn't this house or that, this man's
millions or that man's ; it's the whole thing."
Miss Hitchcock looked nonplussed.
" Life is based on getting something others haven't, —
as much of it as you can and as fast as you can. I never
felt that so constantly as I have the last few months.
Do you think," he went on hastily, " that Lindsay, that
any doctor, can earn fifty thousand a year ? "
" I don't know. I hate views." Her voice sounded
weary and defeated.
Sommers rose to his feet, exclaiming, " I thought there
were some pretty definite ones, this evening."
Miss Hitchcock started, but refused to take the
They faced each other for a moment without speaking.
Sommers could see that his blundering words had placed
him in a worse position than before. At the same time
he was aware that he regretted it ; that " views " were
comparatively unimportant to a young woman ; and that
this woman, at least, was far better than views.
"Good night," she murmured, lowering her eyes as she ■ "^-,
gave him her hand. He hesitated a moment, searching
for an intelligent word, but finally he turned away with-
out any further attempt to explain himself.
It was good to be out in the soft March night, to feel
once more the free streets, which alone carry the at- \
mosphere of unprivileged humanity. The mood of the
evening was doubtless foolish, boyish, but it was none
the less keen and convincing. He had never before had
THE "WEB OF LIFE 41
the inner, unknown elements of Ms nature so stirred;
had never felt this blind, raging protest.
It was a muddle of impressions : the picture of the
poor soul with his clamor for a job ; the satisfied, brutal
egotism of Brome Porter, who lived as if life were a huge
poker game ; the overfed, red-cheeked Caspar, whom he
remembered to have seen only once before, when the
young polo captain was stupid drunk; the silly youngs
cub of a Hitchcock. Even the girl was one of them. If
it weren't for the women, the men would not be so keen
on the scent for gain. The women taught the men how
to spend, created the needs for their wealth. And the
social game they were instituting' in Chicago was so
emptily imitative, an echo of an echo !
There was Carson: he was your image of modern
power — the lean, hungry, seamed face, surmounted by
a dirty-gray pall. He was clawing his way to the top of
Sommers stopped to laugh at himself. His fury was
foolish, a mere generalization of discontent from very lit-
tle data. Still, it was a relief to be out in the purring
night sounds. He had passed from the affluent stone
piles on the boulevard to the cheap flat buildings of a
cross street. His way lay through a territory of start-
ling contrasts of wealth and squalor. The public part of
it — the street and the sidewalks — was equally dirty
and squalid, once off the boulevard. The cool lake
wind was piping down the cross streets, driving before
it waste paper and dust. In his preoccupation he
stumbled occasionally into some stagnant pool.
42 THE WEB OF LIFE
Should he take Lindsay's job, if he had the chance ?
Obstinately his mind reverted to a newspaper paragraph
that had caught his eye months before : on the occasion
of some disturbance over women students in the West-
ern Medical College, Dr. Lindsay had told the men that
" physicians should be especially considerate of women,
if for no other reason, because their success in their profes-
sion would depend very largely on women." Certainly, if he
had to decide to-night, he would rather return to Marion,
Ohio, than join his staff. Such a retreat from the glories
of Chicago would be inconceivable to old Hitchcock and
to the girl. He reflected that he should not like to put
himself away from her forever.
St. Isidore's loomed ahead in the quiet street, its win-
dows dark except for the night light in the ward
kitchens. He should like to turn in there for a few
minutes, to see how the fellow was coming on. The
brute ought not to pull through. But it was too late : a
new regime had begun; his little period of sway had
passed, leaving as a last proof of his art this human
jetsam saved for the nonce. And there rose in his
heated mind the pitiful face of a resolute woman,
questioning him : " You held the keys of life and
death. Which have you given me ?"
The Athenian Building raises its knife-like facade in
the centre of Chicago, thirteen stories in all ; to the lake
it presents a broad ■wall of steel and glass. It is a hive
of doctors. Layer after layer, their offices rise, circling
the gulf of the elevator- well. At the very crown of the
building Dr. Frederick H. Lindsay and his numerous
staff occupy almost the entire floor. In one corner,
however, a small room embedded in the heavy cornice
is rented by a dentist, Dr. Ephraim Leonard. The
dentist's office is a snug little hole, scarcely large enough
for a desk, a chair, a case of instruments, a " laboratory,"
and a network of electric appliances. From the one
broad window the eye rests upon the blue shield of lake ;
nearer, almost at the foot of the building, run the rib-
boned tracks of the railroad yards. They disappear to
the south in a smoky haze ; to the north they end at the
foot of a lofty grain elevator. Beyond, factories quietly
belch sooty clouds.
Dr. Lindsay coveted this office, but Dr. Leonard clung
tenaciously to his little strip, every inch that he could
possibly pay rent for. He had been there since' that
story was finished. The broad view rested him. "V^hen
he ceased to peer into a patient's mouth, he pushed up
his spectacles and took a long look over the lake. Some-
44 THE "WEB OF LIFE
times, if the patient was human and had enough tempera-
ment to appreciate his treasure, he -would idle away a
quarter of an hour chatting, enjoying the sun and the
clear air of the lake. When the last patient had gone,
he would take the chair and have the view to himself, as
from a proscenium box.
The little office was a busy place : besides the patients
there were coming and going a stream of people, — agents,
canvassers, acquaintances, and promoters of schemes. A
scheme was always brewing in the dentist's office. Now
it was a plan to exploit a new suburb innumerable miles
to the west. Again it was a patent contrivance in den-
tistry. Sometimes the scheme was nothing more than a
risky venture in stocks. These affairs were conducted
with an air of great secrecy in violent whisperings,
emphasized by blows of the fist upon the back of the
chair. The favored patients were deftly informed of
"a good thing," the dentist taking advantage of the
one inevitable moment of receptivity for his thrifty
promotions. The schemes, it must be said, had never
come to much. If Dr. Leonard had survived without
any marked loss a dozen years of venturing, he might
be said to have succeeded. He had no time for other
games ; this was his poker. They were always the
schemes of little people, very complex in organization,
needing a wheel here, a cog there, finally breaking down
from the lack of capital. Then some "big people"
collected the fragments to cast them into the pot once
more. Dr. Leonard added another might-have-been and
a new sigh to the secret chamber of his soul. But
THE WEB OF LIFE 45
his face was turned outward to receive the next
This time it happened to be a wonderful new process
of evolving gas from dirt and city refuse. He had been
explaining it gently to a woman in the chair, from
pure intellectual interest, to distract the patient's mind.
He was not tinkering with teeth this time, however.
The woman was sitting in the chair because it was the
only unoccupied space. She had removed her hat and
was looking steadily into the lake. At last, when the
little office clerk had left, the talk about the gas gener-
ator ceased, and the woman turned her wistful face to
the old dentist. There was a sombre pause.
"Yes," the dentist muttered finally, "I saw it in the
paper Tuesday, no, Monday — it was Monday, wasn't it ?
and I hoped you'd come in."
The woman moved her hands restlessly, as if to ask
where else she could go.
" They most always do turn up," he continued bluntly ;
"them that no one wants, like your husband. What
are you going to do ? "
The woman turned her face back to the lake ; it was
evident that she had no plan.
"I thought," the dentist began, recalling her story,
" I thought when you'd started in the schools — it was a
mighty hard thing to do to get you in ; it took all my
pull on Mahoney."
The woman's face flushed. " I know," she murmured.
"They don't want married women. But if it hadn't been
for Mahoney — "
46 THE WEB OF LIFE
"Then," interrupted the dentist, "he'd been good
enough to let you alone for most a year, and I thought
you 'were out of your troubles."
" I knew he -would come back," she interposed quietly.
" But now he comes back just as everything is nice,
and worse, you come across him when he is nigh bein'
shot to death. Then, worse yet, by what the papers
said, you went to the hospital with him and gave the
whole thing away. When I saw the name, Alves Pres-
ton, printed out, I swore."
Mrs. Preston smiled at his vehemence.
"Tell me, Alves," the old man asked in a rambling
manner, " how did you ever come to marry him ? I've
wanted to ask you that from the first."
Mrs. Preston rose from the chair and pulled her cloak
"I couldn't make you understand; I don't myself
"D'yer love him?" the dentist persisted, not un-
" Should I be here if I did ? " she flashed resentfully.
"I was a country girl away at school, more foolish
than one of those dumb Swedes in my class, and he — "
But she turned again to the window, with an impatient
" It is something wrong in a woman," she murmured.
" But she has no chance, no chance. I can't tell you
now all the things."
"Well," the dentist said soothingly, "let's see just
low bad it is. Has your boss, the superintendent, or the
THE WEB OE LIFE 47
principal spoke to you, turned you out? I see the
reporter went around to the school, nosing after some-
" They'd just transferred me — miles south," she
answered indifferently. "I was glad of it. I don't
have to meet the spying, talking teachers, and think
all the time the pupils know it from' their parents.
They're all foreigners where I am now. They say the
Everglade school is the next thing to the last. It's a
kind of Purgatory, where they keep you for a few
months before they dismiss you."
"I didn't know any one was ever dismissed from a
Chicago school," the dentist remarked.
" Oh, sometimes when the superintendents or the
supervisors don't want you. There is a supervisor in
the Everglade district — " she stopped a moment, and
then continued tranquilly — "he was very intimate at
first. I thought he wanted to help me to get on in the
school. But he wanted — other things. Perhaps when
he doesn't — succeed — that will be the end."
"It'll blow over," the dentist said encouragingly.
" If the supervisor troubles you much, I'll see Mahoney.
You've changed your boarding-place ? "
«Yes — but," she admitted in a moment, "they know
it at the hospital."
Dr. Leonard rubbed his bristly face irritably.
"I've been to see him — it seemed I ought to — I was
the only one who woidd in the whole world — the only
one to speak a word to him."
"That makes it worse," the dentist commented de-
48 , THE WEB OF LIFE
pressingly. " I don't know as you could get free now if
you wanted to. You've put your hand to the plough
again, my girl, and it's a long furrow."
" What do you mean ? "
" The hospital folks know you're his wife, and they'll
expect you to take him in when he gets better."
" I suppose so," Mrs. Preston admitted. " But I sup-
pose, anyway, I should take care of him until he can go
Dr. Leonard threw up his hands in disgust.
" Alves, why don't you go straight off and get a divorce
— for desertion? "
Mrs. Preston opened the heavy lids of her eyes ; her
face slowly flushed.
' " That would be the end of it ? " she asked, in a low
" Of course ! I'll give you the money, and testify for
you. G-o right ahead, now he is laid up, and have it all
ready when he gets out."
" I couldn't do that," Mrs. Preston answered, the color
fading from her face, and the white lids closing over the
eyes. "Besides, he may never recover fully. I don't
think they expect him to at the hospital."
"All the more reason," protested the dentist. "It's
mighty hard," he added sympathetically. " Women are
mostly children, the better sort, and you feel bad, even
when they're in trouble through their own foolishness."
"There is no release, no divorce," Mrs. Preston con-
tinued. "A thing is done, and it's done. There's
no ending it in this life. You can run away, or close
THE WEB OF LIFE 49
your eyes, but you don't escape. He has been — my
"That's silly! Now let me tell you what I'll do."
The dentist squared himself and raised the little lignum-
vitse mallet, which he used to drive home his fillings.
" Don't you fool round any more. You can't love that
fellow, — think you never did now, — and he's given you
no reason to be very nice to him. You just drop him
where you are, and start out alone and make the best of
it. You can't do that in Chicago now. Get out of
Chicago to-morrer. Go east. Take your maiden name ;
no one is goin' to be hurt by not knowin' you're married.
I guess you ain't likely to try it again."
He paused for objections, and evidently found one
" If you ain't got the money handy, I'll just fix you
up. That gas generator I was talking to you about is
going to make me mints of money. You can go right
away to my sister-in-law in Worcester, Ohio. Guess lie,
won't trouble you much there. What do you say ? "
She had nothing very cogent to say, but the dentist
felt an impalpable obstruction of will, unintelligible and
persistent. His enthusiasm grew as he perfected the
details of his plan. It was a new kind of scheme, in
which he took the artistic delight of the incorrigible pro-
moter. His imagination once enlisted for the plan, he
held to it, arguing, counselling, bullying. "If it's the
money," he ended, " you needn't bother. I'll just put it
on the bill. When I am rich, it won't make no dif-
ference, nor when you are, either."
50 THE WEB OF LIFE
Mrs. Preston took one of Ms furry hands in hers, and
pressed it. She knew that the ventures had not yet
made him rich. Thirty years in Chicago had not filled
"I'd do it for you, same as for one of my daughters.
It's just as easy as having a tooth out, and you start
over as good as new."
" It isn't that," she smiled. " You can't start over as
good as new if you are a woman. I couldn't run away.
I've put myself into it a second time, without thinking,
I chose then just as before, when I followed him to the
hospital. When the doctor asked me if he should try to
save his life, I wanted him to die — oh, how I longed
that the doctor would refuse to try ! Well, he's alive.
It is for life."
She seemed to see before her a long, toilsome ascent,
to which she had been driven to put her feet.
" Think it over," the dentist counselled at last, despond-
ently. " Sleep on it. There's Worcester, Ohio, and my
Mrs. Preston smiled, and put on her hat.
" I've taken a lot of your time."
" That's no account, but I can't see what you came for.
You won't let a feller help you."
" There wasn't any good reason. I came because I was
awfully lonely. There isn't a soul that I can speak out
to, except you. You don't know what that means. I go
about in the schoolroom, and up and down the streets,
and see things — horrible things. The world gets to be
one big torture chamber, and then I have to cry out. I
THE WEB OF LIFE 51
come to you to cry out, — because you really care. Now
I can go away, and keep silent for a long time."
"You make too much of it," the dentist protested.
He busied himself in putting the little steel instruments
into their purple plush beds and locking the drawers.
" Yes, I make too much of it," Mrs. Preston acknowl-
edged quietly, as she opened the door. " Good night."
' I guess she loves him still and don't like to own it.
Women are generally so,' the dentist commented, when
he was left alone. He picked up a sheaf of stock cer-
tificates and eyed them critically. ' They're nicer than
the Placer Mining ones. They just look fit to eat.'
He locked the certificates of stock in the new com-
pany into a tiny safe, and prepared to pull down the
shade. In the railroad yards below, the great eyes of
the locomotives glared though the March dusk. As the
suburban trains pulled out from minute to minute,
thick wreaths of smoke shot up above the white steam
blasts of the surrounding buildings. The smoke and
steam were sucked together into the vortex of a cross
f I wished I hadn't let her go alone,' the dentist
mused. 'Some day she'll just go over there into the
When Mrs. Preston shut the dentist's door behind her,
an office door on the opposite side of the hall opened
abruptly, and a young man strode into the hall. She
recognized him as the young surgeon who had operated
upon her husband at St. Isidore's. She stepped behind
52 THE WEB OF LIFE
the iron grating of the elevator well and watched him
as he waited for the steel car to bob up from the lower
stories. She was ashamed to meet him, especially now
that she felt committed to the sordid future.
The little car arrived ; the doctor stepped in and dis-
appeared. The door from which he came was covered
with a long list of names. She read the name freshly*
painted in at the bottom, — Dr. Howard Sommers.
Foe Sommers had joined the staff of the great spe-
cialist, and resorted daily to the busy offices in the Athe^
nian Building. A brief vacation had served to convince
him of the folly that lay in indulging a parcel of inco-
herent prejudices at the expense of even that somewhat
nebulous thing popularly called a " career." Dr. Lind-
say made flattering offers; the work promised to be
light, with sufficient opportunity for whatever hospital
practice he cared to take ; and the new aspect of his pro-
fession — commercial medicine he dubbed it — was at
least entertaining. If one wished to see the people of
Chicago at near range, — those who had made the city
what it is, and were making it what it will be, — this was
pretty nearly the best chance in the world.
When he had mentioned Lindsay's offer to Dresser,
who was rising at laborious hours and toiling in the
McNamara and Hill's offices, he realized how unmen-
tionable and trifling were his grounds for hesitation.
Dresser's enthusiasm almost persuaded him that Lindsay
had given him something valuable. And if he found it
difficult to explain his distaste for the thing to Dresser,
what would he have to say to other people — to the
Hitchcocks ? Yet he made his reservations to himself at
least : he was not committed to his " career " ; he should
54 THE WEB OF LIFE
be merely a spectator, a free-lance, a critic, who keeps
v the precious treasure of his own independence. Almost
at the start, however, he was made to realize that this
nonchalance, which vindicated himself in his own eyes,
could not be evident to others. As he was entering the
Athenian hive one morning, he passed the Hitchcock
brougham drawn up by the curb near a jeweller's shop.
Miss Hitchcock, who was preparing to alight, gave him
a cordial smile and an intelligent glance that was not
without a trace of malice. When he crossed the pave-
ment to speak to her, she fulfilled the malice of her
" Tou find Dr. Lindsay isn't so bad, after all ? " There
was no time for explanation. She passed on into the
jeweller's with another smile on her mobile face. He
had to do his stammering to himself, annoyed at the
quip of triumph, at the blithe sneer, over his young
vaporings. This trivial annoyance was accentuated by
the effusive cordiality of the great Lindsay, whom
he met in the elevator. Sommers did not like this
camaraderie of manner. He had seen Lindsay snub
many a poor interne. In his mail, this same morning,
came a note from Mrs. E,. G. Carson, inviting him to din-
ner : a sign that something notable was expected of his
career, for the Carsons were thrifty of their favors, and
were in no position to make social experiments. Such
was the merry way of the world, elsewhere as here, he
reflected, as he turned to the routine of the day.
The office was in full blast: the telephones rang
sharply every few minutes, telling in their irritable
THE WEB OF LIFE 55
little clang of some prosperous patient who desired a
panacea for human ailments; the reception-room was
already crowded with waiting patients of the second
class, those who could not command appointments by
telephone. Whenever the door into this room opened,
these expectant ones moved nervously, each one hoping
to be called. Then, as the door into the private offices
closed, the ones left behind fell back with sighs to the
magazines and illustrated papers with which they sought
to distract their fears or their ennui.
The thin, tall building shivered slightly at the blows
of the fresh April wind. The big windows of the recep-
tion-room admitted broad bands of sunlight. The lake
dazzled beneath in gorgeous green and blue shades.
Spring had bustled into town from the prairies, insinu-
ating itself into the dirty, cavernous streets, sailing in
boisterously over the gleaming lake, eddying in steam
wreaths about the lofty buildings. The subtle moni-
tions of the air permeated the atmosphere of antiseptics
in the office, and whipped the turbulent spirits of Som-
mers until, at the lunch hour, he deserted the Athenian
Building and telephoned for his horse.
This saddle horse was one of the compensations for
conformity. He had been too busy lately, however, to
enjoy it. From the bellow of the city he cantered down
the boulevards toward the great parks. As he passed
the Hitchcock house he was minded to see if Miss
Hitchcock would join him. In the autumn she had
ridden with him occasionally, waiving conventionalities,
but lately she had made excuses. He divined that
56 THE WEB OF LIFE
Parker Hitchcock had sneered at such countrified be-
havior. She -was to go away in a few days for a round
of visits in the South, and he wanted to see her; but
a carriage drew up before the house, and his horse
carried him briskly past down the avenue. Prom one
boulevard to another he passed, keeping his eyes straight
ahead, avoiding the sight of the comfortable, ugly houses,
anxious to escape them and their associations, pressing
on for a beyond, for something other than this vast,
roaring, complacent city. The great park itself was
filled with people, carriages, bicycles. A stream of carts
and horse-back riders was headed for the Driving Club,
where there was tennis and the new game of golf. But
Sommers turned his horse into the disfigured Midway,
where the wreck of the Fair began. He came out,
finally, on a broad stretch of sandy field, south of the
desolate ruins of the Pair itself. The horse picked his
way daintily among the debris of staff and wood that lay
scattered about for acres. A wagon road led across this
waste land toward the crumbling Spanish convent. In
this place there was a fine sense of repose, of vast
quiet. Everything was dead; the soft spring air gave
no life. Even in the geniality of the April day, with
the brilliant, theatrical waters of the lake in the dis-
tance, the scene was gaunt, savage. To the north, a
broad dark shadow that stretched out into the lake
defined the city. Nearer, the ample wings of the white
Art Building seemed to stand guard against the impro-
prieties of civilization. To the far south, a line of thin
trees marked the outer desert of the prairie. Behind, in
THE WEB OF LIFE 57
the west, were straggling flat-buildings, mammoth de-
serted hotels, one of which was crowned with a spidery-
steel tower. Nearer, a frivolous Grecian temple had
been wheeled to the confines of the park, and dumped by
the roadside to serve as a saloon.
Sommers rose in his stirrups and gazed about him
over the rotting buildings of the play-city, the scrawny
acres that ended in the hard black line of the lake, the
vast blocks of open land to the south, which would go
to make some new subdivision of the sprawling city.
Absorbed, charmed, grimly content with the abominable
desolation of it all, he stood and gazed. No evidence of
any plan, of any continuity in building, appeared upon
the waste : mere sporadic eruptions of dwellings, mere
heaps of brick and mortar dumped at random over the
cheerless soil. Above swam the marvellous clarified
atmosphere of the sky; like iridescent gauze, shower-
ing a thousand harmonies of metallic colors. Like a
dome of vitrified glass, it shut down on the illimitable,
tawdry sweep of defaced earth.
The horse started : a human figure, a woman's dress,
disturbing here in the desert expanse, had moved in
front of him. Sommers hit the horse with his crop and
was about to gallop on, when something in the way the
woman held herself caught his attention. She was lean-
ing against the wind, her skirt streaming behind her,
her face thrust into the air. Sommers reined in his
horse and jumped down.
"How is your husband ? " he asked brusquely.
58 THE WEB OP LIFE
Mrs. Preston looked up with a smile of glad recogni-
tion, but she did not answer immediately.
" You remember, don't you ? " the doctor said kindly.
" You are Mrs. Preston, aren't you ? I am the doctor
who operated on your husband a few weeks ago at the
" Yes, I remember," she replied, almost sullenly.
" How is he ? I left St. Isidore's the next day. Is he
still in the hospital ? "
"They discharged him last Monday," Mrs. Preston
answered, in the same dull tone.
" Ah ! " The doctor jerked the bridle which he held in
his left hand and prepared to mount. " So he made a
" No, no ! I didn't say that," she replied passionately.
"You knew, you knew that couldn't be. He has — he
is — I don't know how to say it."
Sommers slipped the bridle-rein over the horse's head
and walked on by her side. She looked down at the
roadway, as if to hide her burning face.
" Where is he now ? " the doctor asked, finally, more
"With me, down there." Mrs. Preston waved her
hand vaguely toward the southern prairie. They began.:
to walk more briskly, with a tacit purpose in their
motion. When the wagon road forked, Mrs. Preston
took the branch that led south out of the park. It
opened into a high-banked macadamized avenue bordered ,
by broken wooden sidewalks. The vast flat land began
to design itself, as the sun faded out behind the irregular
THE WEB OF LIFE 59
lines of buildings two miles to the west. A block south,
a huge red chimney was pouring tranquilly its volume
of dank smoke into the air. On the southern horizon a
sooty cloud hovered above the mills of South Chicago.
But, except for the monster chimney, the country ahead
of the two was bare, vacant, deserted. The avenue
traversed empty lots, mere squares of sand and marsh,
cut up in regular patches for future house-builders.
Here and there an advertising landowner had cemented
a few rods of walk and planted a few trees to trap the
possible purchaser into thinking the place " improved."
But the cement walks were crumbling, the trees had
died, and rank thorny weeds choked about their roots.
The cross streets were merely lined out, a deep ditch on
either side of an embankmenti
" My God, what a place ! " the young doctor exclaimed.
" The refuse acres of the earth."
The woman smiled bitterly, tranquilly, while her
glance roamed over the familiar landscape.
"Yet it is better than the rest, back there," she pro-
tested, in a low voice. "At least, there is something
open, and a little green in spring, and the nights are
calm. It seems the least little bit like what it used to be
in Wisconsin on the lake. But there we had such lovely
woodsy hills, and great meadows, and fields with cattle,
and God's real peace, not this vacuum." Her voice
" You liked it there ? " the doctor asked musingly.
" It's all that I have ever known that was — as it
should be. My father had a farm," she explained more
60 THE WEB OF LIFE f
easily, " and until he died and I was sent to Bockminster
College to school, my life was there, by the lake, on the
farm, at the seminary on the hill, where my brother
was studying — "
The visions of the past developed with endless clews,
which she could not follow aloud. After waiting for
her to resume, Sommers asked tentatively :
" Why don't you go back, then ? "
She flashed a rapid, indignant glance at him.
" No w ! Go back to what ? — With him t "
Her lips set tight. He had been stupid, had hit at
" No, no," she continued, answering her own heart ;
"they would never understand. There is never any
going back — and, sometimes, not much going ahead,"
she ended, with an effort to laugh.
They stopped while the horse nibbled at a tall weed
in the roadway. They had got fairly into the prairie,
and now at some distance on left and right gawky Queen
Anne houses appeared. But along their path the waste
was unbroken. The swamp on either side of the road
was filled with birds, who flew in and out and perched
on the dry planks in the walks. An abandoned electric-
car track, raised aloft on a high embankment, crossed the
avenue. Here and there a useless hydrant thrust its
head far above the muddy soil, sometimes out of the
swamp itself. They had left the lake behind them,
but the freshening evening breeze brought its damp
breath across their faces.
"How came you to get into this spot?" the doctor
THE WEB OF LIFE 61
asked, after his searching eyes had roamed over the
misty landscape, half swamp, half city suburb.
" I was transferred — about the time of the operation.
My school is over there," she pointed vaguely toward
the southwest. " I could not afford to live any distance
from the school," she added bluntly. " Besides, I wanted
to be alone."
So she taught, Sommers reflected, yet she had none of
the professional air, the faded niceness of face and man-
ner which he associated with the city school-teacher.
" I haven't taught long," she volunteered, " only about
a year. First I was over by Lincoln Park, near where I
had been living."
" Do you like the teaching ? " Sommers asked.
"I hate it," she remarked calmly, without any show
of passion. " It takes a little of one's life every day, and
leaves you a little more dead."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, and then
Mrs. Preston suddenly stopped.
" Why do you come ? " she exclaimed. " Why do you
want to know? It can do no good, — I know it can do
no good, and it is worse to have anyone — you — know
the hateful thing. I want to crush it in myself, never to
tell, no, — no one," she stopped incoherently.
" I shall go," the doctor replied calmly, compassion-
ately. " And it is best to tell."
Her rebellious face came back to its wonted repose.
" Yes, I suppose I make it worse. It is best to tell —
As they proceeded, more briskly now, she talked of
her life in the Chicago schools. She had taken the work
when nothing else offered in the day of her calamity.
She described the struggle for appointment. If it had
not been for her father's old friend, a dentist, she would
never have succeeded in entering the system. A woman,
she explained, must be a Roman Catholic, or have some
influence with the Board, to get an appointment. Qualifi-
cations ? She had had a better education in the Rock-
minster school than was required, but if a good-natured
schoolteacher hadn't coached her on special points in
pedagogy, school management, nature-study, etc., she
would never have passed the necessary examinations.
In an impersonal way she described the life of a
teacher in a great American school system : its routine, its
spying supervision, its injustices, its mechanical ideals, its
one preeminent ambition to teach as many years as it was
necessary to obtain a pension. There were the superin-
tendents, the supervisors, the special teachers, the princi-
pals — petty officers of a petty tyranny in which too often
seethed gossip, scandal, intrigue. There were the " soft
places " ; the deceitful, the easy, the harsh principals ; the
teachers' institutes to which the poor teacher was forced
to pay her scanty dollars. There were bulletins, rules,
THE WEB OF LIFE 63
counter-rules. As she talked, Sommers caught the
atmosphere of the great engine to which she had given
herself. A mere isolated atom, she was set in some
obscure corner of this intricate machine, and she was
compelled to revolve with the rest, as the rest, in the
fear of disgrace and of hunger. The terms " special
teachers," " grades of pay," " constructive work," " disci-
pline," etc., had no special significance to him, typi-
fying merely the exactions of the mill, the limitations
set about the human atom.
Her manner of telling it all was unpremeditated, inco-
herent, and discursive, and yet strangely effective. She
described the contortions of her kaleidoscope as they
came to mind haphazard, with an indifference, a precise
objectivity that made the picture all the more real and
universal, not the special story of the special case.
" The first weeks I was nearly lost ; the drawing
teacher didn't like" me, and reported my room for dis-
order ; the ' cat ' — that is what they call the principal —
kept running in and watching, and the pupils — there
were seventy-five — I could barely keep them quiet.
There was no teaching. How could one teach all those ?
Most of our time, even in ' good ' rooms, is taken up in
keeping order. I was afraid each day would be my
last, when Miss M'Gann, who was the most friendly one
of the teachers, told me what to do. ' Give the drawing
teacher something nice from your lunch, and ask her in to
eat with you. She is an ignorant old fool, but her brother
is high up in a German ward. And give the cat taffy.
Ask him how he works out the arithmetic lessons, and
64 THE WEB OP LIFE
* ab'out his sassing the assistant superintendent, and make
" I did as I was told," she ended with a smile, " and
things went better for a time. But there was always the
married teachers' scare. Every month or so some one
starts the rumor that the Board is going to remove all
married teachers ; there are complaints that the married
women crowd out the girls — those who have to support
They both laughed at the irony of the argument, and
their laugh did much to do away with the constraint,
the tension of their mood. More gayly she mentioned
certain farcical incidents.
" Once I saw a principal hurl a book at a sleepy teacher,
who was nodding in his lecture at the Institute. Poor
woman ! she is so nearly deaf that she can hear noth-
ing, and they say she can never remember where the
lessons are : the pupils conduct the recitations. But she
has taught in that school for twenty-three years, and she
is a political influence in the ward. Imagine it ! "
They laughed again, and the world seemed lighter.
Sommers looked at his companion more closely and
appreciatively. Her tone of irony, of amused and im-
partial spectatorship, entertained him. Would he, caught
like this, wedged into an iron system, take it so lightly,
accept it so humanly ? It was the best the world held out
for her : to be permitted to remain in the system, to serve
out her twenty or thirty years, drying up in the thin, hot
air of the schoolroom; then, ultimately, when released,
to have the means to subsist in some third-rate boarding-
THE WEB OF LIFE 65
house until the end. Or marry again ? But the dark
lines under the eyes, the curve of experience at the mouth,
did not warrant that supposition. She had had her trial
of that alternative.
She did not question him, and evinced no curiosity about
his ■world. She had touched it on the extreme edge,
and she was content with that, satisfied probably that
this unexpected renewal of their connection was most
casual — too fortunate to happen again. So she took
him into a perfectly easy intimacy ; it was the nearness
that comes between two people when there is slight
probability of a common future.
At last she turned into one of the streets that crossed
the avenue at long intervals. This one was more devel-
oped than those they had passed : a row of gigantic tele-
phone poles stretched along its side ; two car tracks in
use indicated that it was a thoroughfare. At the corner
there was an advertising sign of The Hub Clothing
House ; and beneath, on one spoke of a tiny hub, This is
Ninety-first Street; and at right angles on another spoke,
This is Washington Avenue. He remembered vaguely
having seen a Washington Avenue miles to the north.
The thing had been drawn on the map by a ruler,
without regard to habitations; on the map it probably
went on into Indiana, to the Ohio River, — to the Gulf
for all he knew.
Yet the cross-road was more promising than anything
they had met : a truck farm bordered one side ; a line of
tall willows suggested faintly the country. Just beyond
the tracks of a railroad the ground rose almost imper-
66 THE "WEB OP LIFE
ceptibly, and a grove, of stunted oaks covered the minia-
ture hill. The bronzed leaves still hanging from the
trees made something like shade beside the road.
" That is better," Sonimers exclaimed, relieved to find
a little oasis in the desert of sand and weeds.
The woman smiled. " It is almost a forest ; it runs
south for a block. And beyond there is the loveliest
meadow, all tender green now. Over there you can see
the Everglade School, where I spend my days. The
people are Swedes, mostly, — operatives in the factories at
Grand Crossing and on the railroads. Many of the
children can scarcely understand a word of English, —
and their habits ! But they are better than the Poles, in
the Halsted Street district, or the Russians in another
West Side district. And we have a brick building, not
rooms rented in a wooden house. And the principal is
an old woman, too fat to climb all the stairs to my room.
So I am left alone to reign among my young barbarians."
When they reached the grove, Mrs. Preston crossed
the car tracks and entered a little grassy lane that
skirted the stunted oaks. A few hundred feet from the
street stood a cottage built of yellow "Milwaukee"
brick. It was quite hidden from the street by the oak
grove. The lane ended just beyond in a tangle of weeds
and undergrowth. On the west side there was an open,
marshy lot which separated the cottage in the trees from
Stoney Island Avenue, — the artery that connects Pull-
man and the surrounding villages with Chicago.
An old German had lived in it, Mrs. Preston ex-
plained, until his death a year or two ago. He had
THE WEB OP LIFE 67
a little chicken farm. As no one else wanted to live in
such a desolate place, so far from, the scattered hamlets,
she had got it for a small rent. The house "was a tiny
imitation of a castle, with crenelated parapet and tower.
Crumbling now and weather-stained, it had a quaint,
human, wistful air. Its face was turned away from the
road toward a bit of garden, which was fenced off from
the lane by arbors of grape-vines.
Sommers tied his horse to the gate post. Mrs. Pres-
ton did not speak after they reached the house. Her
face had lost its animation. They stood still for some
time, gazing into the peaceful garden plot and the bronzed
oaks beyond, as if loath to break the intimacy of the last
half hour. In the solitude, the dead silence of the place,
there seemed to lurk misfortune and pain. Suddenly
from a distance sounded the whirr of an electric car,
passing on the avenue behind them. The noise came
softened across the open lot — a distant murmur from
the big city that was otherwise so remote.
The spring twilight had descended, softening all brutal
details. The broad horizon above the lake was piled
deep with clouds. Beyond the oak trees, in the
southern sky, great tongues of flame shot up into the
dark heavens out of the blast furnaces of the steel
works. Deep-toned, full-throated frogs had begun their
" Shall we go in ? " the doctor asked at last.
Mrs. Preston started, and her hand closed instinctively
upon the gate, as if to bar further entrance to her pri-
vacy. Then without reply she opened the gate, led the
way across the tiny lawn, and unlocked the cottage door.
They entered a large room, from which some narrow
stairs led to the chambers above. Floor and walls were
bare, and the only furniture consisted of two wooden
chairs, a small coal-stove, and a pine table of consider-
able size. This was covered with books, school exercises,
and a few dishes. Mrs. Preston brusquely flung off her
cape and hat, and faced the doctor.
" I might as well tell you the main thing before you
see him. He — "
" That is scarcely necessary," Sommers replied gently.
" I probably know what you are thinking of."
A flush, caused by the revealed shame, crept over her
face, lighting it to the extreme corners under the temples
and ears. As she stood there, humiliated, yet defiant
of him and of the world, Sommers remembered the
first time he had seen her that night at the hospital.
He read her, somehow, extraordinarily well ; he knew the
misery, the longing, the anger, the hate, the stubborn
power to fight. Her deep eyes glanced at him frankly,
THE WEB OF LIFE 69
willing to be read by this stranger out of the multitude
of men. They had no more need of words now than at
that first moment in the operating room at St. Isidore's.
They were man and woman, in the presence of a fate
that could not be softened by words.
"You are right," she said softly. "Yet sometime I want
to tell you things — not now. I will go and see how he is."
When she had left the room, Sommers examined the
few objects about him in the manner of a man who draws
his conclusions from innumerable, imponderable data.
Then he took a chair to the window and sat down. She
was very real to him, this woman, and compelling, with
her silences, her broken phrases. Rarely, very rarely
before in his life, had he had this experience of intimacy
without foreknowledge, without background — the sense
of dealing with a human soul nakedly.
" Will you come now ? "
Mrs. Preston had returned and held the stair-door
open for him. Sommers looked at her searchingly,
curious to find where this power lay. Her face had
grown white and set. The features and the figure were
those of a large woman. Her hair, bronzed in the sun-
light as he remembered, was dark in the gloom of this
room. The plain, symmetrical arrangement of the hair
above the large brow and features made her seem older
than she was. The deep-set eyes, the quivering lips, and
the thin nostrils gave life to the passive, restrained face.
The passions of her life lay just beneath the surface of
" He is very talkative, and wanders — "
70 THE "WEB OP LIFE
The doctor nodded and followed her up the steep
stairs, which were closed at the head by a stout door.
The upper story was divided about equally into two
rooms. The east room, to which Mrs. Preston opened
the door, was plainly furnished, yet in comparison with
the room below it seemed almost luxurious. Two win-
dows gave a clear view above the little oak copse, the
lines of empty freight cars on the siding, and a mile of
low meadow that lay between the cottage and the fringe
of settlement along the lake. Through another window
at the north the bleak prospect of Stoney Island Avenue
could be seen, flanked on one side by a huge sign over a
saloon. Near this window on a lounge lay the patient.
Preston's personal appearance had not improved during
his illness : his face, over the lower half of which a black
beard had grown rankly, was puffy with convalescent fat.
His hands that drummed idly against the couch were
white and flabby. As he half rose and extended his
hand to the doctor, he betrayed, indefinably, remote
traces of superior breeding.
"Excuse me, doctor," he said apologetically. "Mrs.
Preston keeps me a close prisoner. But she won't have
the whip-hand very long."
He laughed boisterously, as Sommers shook hands and
"Women know they've got you while you are sick.
They like to keep an eye on a man, eh ? "
He laughed again, confidentially, as if the doctor, being
a man, would appreciate the point. Then he continued,
nervously, without pause :
THE WEB OE LIEE 71
" But I have some business to attend to. I must get
out of this as soon as you can patch me up so I can walk
straight. I ought to have been in Denver a month ago.
There's a man out there, who comes in from his ranch
two hundred miles to see' me. He is a fine fellow, strap-
ping, big six-footer. He knows how to put in his time
day and night, when he gets to town. I remember one
time we were in Frisco together — ever been in Frisco ?
It's a great place for a good dinner, and all you want to
drink. Drink — my ! I've seen the time — "
He rambled on, now and then pausing to laugh bois-
terously at some recollection. As his whirligig tale
touched upon indecent episodes, his voice lowered and he
sought for convenient euphemisms, helped out by sym-
pathetic nods. Mrs. Preston made several attempts to
interrupt his aimless, wandering talk; but he started
again each time, excited by the presence of the doctor.
His mind was like a bag of loosely associated ideas.
Any jar seemed to set loose a long line of reminiscences,
very vaguely connected. The doctor encouraged him to
talk, to develop himself, to reveal the story of his road-
side debaucheries. He listened attentively, evincing an
interest in the incoherent tale. Mrs. Preston watched
the doctor's face with restless eyes.
Finally Preston ended his husky monotone in a queru-
lous entreaty. " I need a little whiskey to keep me going.
Tell her, won't you? — to let me have a little drink.
My regular allowance was a pint a day, and I haven't
had a drop for four weeks. Your Chicago whiskey is rot-
ten bad, though, I tell you. I just stepped into a place
72 THE "WEB OF LIFE
to get a drink with Joe Campbell — his father owns a
big pulp mill in Michigan — well — we had one or two
drinks, and the first thing I knew there was shooting
all over the place, and some one grabbed me, and I was
thrown into the street — "
Mrs. Preston exclaimed, " Do you want to hear more ? "
Sommers rose. " I'll come again to see you, Mr. Pres-
ton, and I will leave something that will help you.
" It was good of you to take this interest, doctor. I
am glad to have met you, Doctor — ? "
" Sommers," suggested the doctor, smiling at the evi-
dences of forgotten breeding that cropped out of the
" Well, Dr. Sommers, I hope we shall meet again when
I am more myself."
When they returned to the room below, Mrs. Preston
lit a lamp. After some minutes Sommers asked, "How
long has this been going on ? "
" For years — before he left college ; he was taken out
of Yale because of it. All I know is what he tells when
he is not — responsible."
" Ah ! " the doctor exclaimed involuntarily.
" I never knew," Mrs. Preston added quickly, " until
we had been married a year. He was away so much of
the time, and he was very different then — I mean he
didn't ramble on as he does now. He was not flabby and
childish, not before the operation."
The doctor turned his face away.
"About two years ago some of the men he was with
THE WEB OF LIFE 73
brought him home, drunk. Afterward he didn't seem to
eare. But he was away most of the time, travelling,
going from place to place, always living in hotels, always
drinking until some illness brought him back."
" And this time ? " the doctor asked.
Mrs. Preston shut her lips, as if there were things she
could not say yet.
" I was not living with him." In a few moments, she
continued quietly : " I suppose I should have been but
for one thing. He told me he was going to New York,
and I found him with another woman, living in a hotel
not a mile from our home. I don't know why I should
have made so much of that. I had suspected for months
that there were other women ; but seeing it, knowing
that he knew I had seen it ! I nearly starved before I
Confession, the details, the whole story, appealed to
her evidently as obvious, typical, useless. She tried to
select simple words, to leave the facts undimmed by
" As I told you, an old friend of my father's helped
me to get work. That kept me from ending it just there.
As the months went on and he did not try to find me, I
got used to the round, to the school, the living on, dead
and alive. I thought of getting a divorce, of finding
some country school in another state. Dr. Leonard
urged me to. I might have — I don't know. But acci-
dentally he was brought back. I was going home from a
teachers' meeting that night. I saw him lying on the
pavement, thrown out of the saloon, as he told you. A
74 THE WEB OP LIFE
crowd gathered. He was unconscious. I wanted to run
away, to leave him, to escape. He groaned. I couldn't
— I couldn't."
She sighed wearily at the memory of her illogical act.
The doctor nodded sympathetically. It was a fatal mo-
ment, the point of decision in her life. He understood
what it meant to her.
" There was no one else to take him — to be responsi-
ble. He had been mine. After all, the divorce would
have made no difference; it never can. You have to
take your failures; you have to endure."
" Has he any relatives ? " Sommers asked.
"A few; they were done with him long ago. They
had money, and they wanted to • get rid of him. They
put him into a business that would keep him away from
them ; that would give him the best chance to kill him-
self — going about everywhere, always travelling, always
with men who drink and live in hotels as he has. They
shoved him into the world to let the world, or any one
who would, take care of him."
It had been her lot, because of the error of her incom-
petent heart, to take charge of this flotsam. That was
so evident that she had given up seeking for escape.
" He is helpless now," she added, as for excuse. " It
would be cruel."
For a moment the doctor's face looked hard. Was it,
he seemed to be turning over in his mind, that she loved
him a little in the depths of her heart ? That was an
irritating trait of feminine stupidity. But one intelli-
gent glance at her calm face rendered that supposition
THE WEB OF LIFE 75
impossible. She was merely largely human, with a sense
of remote claims.
" And now what will you do ? " he asked.
Her eyes were brooding on that now. Finally she
exclaimed with an impatient gesture :
" How can I tell ! He may get strong enough to leave
me — in peace. He may come back again to rest and get
well. And that may go on and on until one of us dies,
or I am discharged. As I told you, they are trying now
to exclude married teachers from the schools. And I
am married ! "
Sommers saw that she had faced the sordid situation ;
that she expected no relief from the clouds. He got up
and looked at his watch.
" I shall come again. We will see what can be done."
This was a convention of the profession. Nothing
could be done for that man, and he knew it. She
knew it also. She smiled mournfully as they shook
hands. Yet as he moved toward the door she asked in
a low tone :
" Won't you tell me what you call it ? There is no
use in not telling me."
"Paresis," Sommers replied ;shortly. As her face was
still inquiring, he added : " Brain trouble. In his ease
a kind of decay of the tissue ; perhaps inherited, certainly
hastened by his habits, probably precipitated by the
His glance met hers, and they both fell silent before
the common thought. In the practice of his profession
he had done this for her, in obedience to the cowardly
76 THE WEB OF LIFE
rules of that profession. He had saved life — anima-
tion — to this mass of corruption. Except for his skill,
this waste being would have gone its way quietly to
death, thereby purifying all life by that little. He
added at last in a mechanical tone :
"That results sometimes from such an operation.
You can't tell how it will affect the brain, especially
when the history of the case is a bad one. He will have
to be sent away to an institution if — ; but the only thing
now is to wait to see what will happen. Good night.
I shall see you in a few days," he concluded abruptly.
He was determined to speculate no more, to give her
no hopes that might prove groundless. The future was
uncertain : the patient might have convulsions, paralysis,
locomotor ataxia, mere imbecility with normal physical
functions, or intermittent insanity. It was highly unpro-
fessional to speculate in this loose fashion about the out-
come of an operation.
Mrs. Preston watched him as he crossed the lawn and
untied his horse. She had not thanked him for com-
ing, for promising to come again, he reflected with
relief. She was no weak, dependent fool. He rode
down the sodded lane, and as his horse picked his way
carefully toward the avenue where the electric cars were
shooting back and forth like magnified fireflies, he
turned in his saddle to look once more at the cottage.
One light gleamed from the room he had just left. He
could see the outline of the woman's form standing by
the open window. The place was lonely and forbidding
enough, isolated and withdrawn as the life of the woman
THE WEB OF LIFE 77
•within it. She was set apart with the thing that had
been man stretched out above in stupor, or restlessly
babbling over his dirty tale. God knew why! Yet,
physician and unsentimental thinker that he was, he
felt' to a certain degree the inevitableness of her fate.
The common thing would be to shake the dirt from
one's shoes, to turn one's back on the diseased and mis-
taken being, " to put it away where it would not trouble,"
— but she did not seek to escape.
And he had been the instrument to execute for her
this decree of fate, to bind it permanently, a lifetime
The frogs were making merry in the marshy fields
along the avenue. Their robust chorus mingled with the
whir of the cars. Soft, dark clouds were driving lake-
ward. The blast furnaces of the steel works in South
Chicago silently opened and belched flame, and silently
closed again. A rosy vapor, as from some Tartarean
breathing, hovered about the mouths of the furnaces.
Moment by moment these mouths opened and belched
and closed. It was the fiery respiration of a gigantic
beast, of a long worm whose dark body enveloped the
smoky city. The beast heaved and panted and rested,
again and again — the beast that lay on its belly for
many a mile, whose ample stomach was the city, there
northward, hid in smoke.
Long after the horse's hoofs had ceased to beat in the
still evening, Mrs. Preston sat by the open window in
the bare cottage room, her head resting on her arms, her
eyes peering into the soft darkness in the path of the
shadowy figure that had passed down Stoney Island Ave-
nue into the night beyond her ken. She had not asked
him to return. But he had promised to. Indeed, he did
not seem to be far away : she could feel his gentle eyes,
his imperious face, his sympathetic voice. It was not
much that she could make of him ; but her imagination
built gratefully on his few words and simple acts, until he
became — as when he had spoken to her at the hospital
— a masterful spirit, dominating that vague, warm land
of dreams in which she took refuge during waking
She should see him again — she must see him again,
that was all. And yet what was the good of it ? Only
a new pain in thus revealing her sores — a pain mixed
with a subtle anaesthetic, sweeter than anything she had
known in this life. In the end she would have to do
without this anodyne ; would have to meet her hard and
brutal world. Just now, while the yoke was hot to the
neck, she might take this mercy to temper the anguish.
On the long hill road before her it would be a grateful
THE WEB OF LIFE ' 79
memory. It seemed now that she had put herself to the
yoke, had taken the hill road very lightly. She had not
thought of accepting the dentist's advice. With the
fierce energy of her crushed, spoiled youth, she had
taken her measures : had found this little cottage, hid in
the oak copse ; had prepared it with her own hands ; had
gone to the hospital to fetch her husband. That never
ending journey from the hospital to the cottage ! His
ceaseless babble, the foul overflow from his feeble mind,
had sapped her courage.
Her head dropped weakly upon her arms ; useless tears
started. Before that day she had had some joy in this cot-
tage. There were glorious sunrises from the lake and sun-
sets over the desolate marshes. The rank swamp grasses
were growing long, covering decently the unkempt soil.
At night, alone, she had comfort in the multitudinous
cries from the railroads that ribbed the prairie in this
outskirt of the city. The shrieks of the locomotives were
like the calls of great savage birds, raising their voices
melodiously as they fled to and fro into the roaring
cavern of the city, outward to the silent country, to the
happier, freer regions of man. As they- rushed, they
bore her with them to those shadowy lands far away
in the sweet stillness of summer-scented noons, in the
solemn quiet of autumn nights. Her days were beset
with visions like these — visions of a cool, quiet, tran-
quil world; of conditions of peace; of yearnings satisfied;
of toil that did not lacerate. Yes ! that world was, some-
where. Her heart was convinced of it, as her father's
had been convinced of the reality of paradise. That
80 THE WEB OF LIFE
■which she had never been, that ■which she could not be
now — it must exist somewhere. Singularly childish it
seemed even to herself, this perpetual obsession by the
desire for happiness, — , inarticulate, unformed desire. It
haunted her, night and morning, haunted her as the
desire for food haunts the famished, the desire for action
the prisoned. It urged on her footsteps in the still after-
noons as she wandered over this vast waste of houseless
blocks. Up and down the endless checker-board of
empty streets and avenues she had roamed, gleaning
what joys were to be had in the metallic atmosphere, the
stunted copses, the marshy pools spotted with the blue
shields of fleur-de-lys. For even here, in the refuse cor-
ner of the great city, Nature doled out niggardly gifts of
green growth — proofs of her unquenchable bounty.
This hunger for joy had included no desire for com-
panionship. When her child died, the last person had
slipped out of her world. To-night there was a strange,
almost fearful sense that this vacant, tenantless life
might change. Was there some one among these dull
, figures that would take life, speak, touch her ?
There was a movement in the rooms above. She
started. Had she locked the door securely? Preston
had tried before to drag himself out of the cottage,
across the intervening lot, to the saloon on Stoney
Island Avenue, whose immense black and gold sign he
could see from his chamber. That must not happen
here, in the neighborhood of the Everglade School. She
must keep him well concealed until he should be strong
enough to go far away, on the old round of travel and
THE WEB OP LIFE 81
debauch, from city to city, wearing out his brutishness
and returning to her only when spent.
The movements above increased. He was pounding at
" Are you going to let me starve ? Where are you ? "
the sick man called out querulously.
She sprang up; she had forgotten to get supper.
When she took the food upstairs, Preston was dragging
himself about the room. He was excited, and anxious
"Did that doctor fix me up? I don't remember see-
ing him in the hospital."
"He operated when you were received. He left the
next day," she answered.
"It must have been a neat job. I guess I was in a
pretty tough state," he mused more quietly. " How did
he happen to look me up ? "
"I met him accidentally in the park," she explained
briefly, anxious to have done with the subject. "He
offered to come back with me to see you. Perhaps," she
added more bitterly, "he wanted to see what he had
" I suppose he knows ? "
"Well, I can't see why he bothers around. I don't
want his attentions."
As she prepared to leave the room, after pulling down
the shades and opening the bed, he said apologetically:
"It was pretty good of you to take me in after — I
have treated you badly, Alves. But it's no use in going
82 THE WEB OF LIFE
back over that. I guess I was made so. There are lots
of men like that, or worse."
" I suppose so," she assented coldly.
" Why are you so stiff with me ? You hardly look at
me, and you touch me as if I were a piece of dirt. Sup-
posing I take a brace and we start over, somewhere else?
I am tired of knocking round. Come over and kiss me,
won't you ? "
Mrs. Preston paused in her work, the color mounting
in her face. At first she made no reply, but as she
crossed to the door, she said in a cool, distant tone :
" I don't think I shall ever kiss you again or let you
touch me, if I can help it. Do you happen to remember
where I saw you last — I mean before I found you in the
street — six months ago ? "
His face grew troubled, as if he were trying to
" Oh 1 that woman ? Well, that's past."
" Yes, that woman. I took you here," she continued,
her full voice gathering passion, " because you are help-
less and an outcast. And because I had taken you
before, ignorantly, I feel bound to defend you as you
never defended me. But I am not bound to do more,
and you have sense enough — "
"You were ready enough to bind yourself, if I
She answered meekly :
"I can't think it was the same woman who did that —
who was blind and cheap enough to do that. Something
has shown me that I am other than the foolish creature
THE WEB OP LIFE 83
you took so easily with a marriage ring, because you
could not have her in an easier way ! But the old, silly
country girl has gone and left me this Why did it
have to be ? " she exclaimed more incoherently. " "Why
did you not let me read what you are ? I had only a few
wretched weeks to learn you — and I was ignorant and
foolish and young. You had me helpless at Barrington !
Was it such a clever thing to cheat a girl from a Wiscon-
sin village ? "
Preston answered apologetically, —
" Well, I married you."
" Married me ! You make a good deal of that! Per-
haps it would have been better if you had not married
me. My child and I could have died together then.
But I was married, and so I struggled. The child died,
died, do you hear, because you had left me without
money to get it what it needed. I sat and saw it die.
You were — "
She closed her lips as if to repress further words. As
she reached the door, she said in her -usual neutral
" So long as you are decent, keep from drinking, and
don't get me into trouble at the school, you may stay
and take what I can give you."
" ( May stay ! ' " Preston roared, getting to his feet
and making a step to intercept her before she closed the
door. His legs trembled, and he fell. She knelt over
him to see if he had injured himself, and then satisfied
that he was not hurt, she left the room, barring the door
from the outside. She was none too soon in taking this
84 THE WEB OE LIFE
precaution, for as she swung the heavy oak bar into its
socket, — a convenient device of the old German, who
had the reputation of being a miser, — she could hear
Preston dragging himself toward the door, cursing as he
stumbled over the furniture. She crept wearily down-
stairs into the bare room. Some one was moving in the
tiny kitchen beyond.
"Is that you, Anna?" Mrs. Preston called.
" Ye-es," a slow voice responded. Presently a young
woman came forward. She was large and very fair, with
the pale complexion and intense blue eyes of the Swede.
"I came in and found no one here, so I was clean-
ing up for you. I have time. John has gone to a
meeting — there are many meetings now and not much
work. You will eat something ? "
She went back to the kitchen and returned with warm
"Yes, I am faint." Mrs. Preston's arms trembled.
She laughed nervously as she spilled her tea.
" You are not well ? You cannot live so — it's no
use," the strong Swede continued monotonously. " The
men are bad enough when they are good ; but when they
are bad, a woman can do nothing."
" Tell me about the strike."
Anna Svenson laughed contemptuously, as if such
affairs were a part of men's foolishness.
"They're talking of going out, all the railroad men,
if the roads use the Pullmans. That's what John has
gone to see about. Work is hard to find, so they're
going to make less of it."
THE WEB OF LIFE 85
She stood easily, her arms by her side, -watching
Mrs. Preston eat, and talking in an even, unexcited
" Father likes the job I told you about — over at the
lumber yards. He came in last Sunday. He says the
folks out his way are near starving. Svenson thinks of
quitting his job."
She laughed gently.
"Life is like that," Mrs. Preston assented. "You
can't manage it."
"No, why should one ?" Anna Svenson replied coolly.
" Children come, they die, they grow up, they fight, they
starve, and they have children. It was so over there ; it
is so here — only more pay and more drink some days ;
less pay, less drink other days. I shall wash the dishes.
She came and went quickly, noiselessly. When every-
thing had been done, she opened a window and leaned out,
looking into the darkness. The fact of her presence
seemed to bring peace to the room.
" It is a good night," she said, drawing her head in.
" There, Svenson has lit the lamp. I must go."
"Good night, Anna." Mrs. Preston took her hand.
It was large and cool.
" You shake hands ? " Mrs. Svenson asked, with a
smile. " When I was working out, people like you
never shook hands."
" People like me ! What have I that makes me differ-
ent from you ? "
" Oh, nothing ; not much," she replied tranquilly.
86 THE "WEB OP LIFE
With a sigh Mrs. Preston took up a bundle of gram-
mar exercises and sorted them. She was too weary for
this task : she could not go on just yet. She drew her
chair over to the window and sat there long quarter
hours, watching the electric cars. They announced
themselves from a great distance by a low singing on
the overhead wire ; then with a rush and a rumble the
big, lighted things dashed across the void, and rumbled on
with a clatter of smashing iron as they took the switches
recklessly. The noise soothed her; in the quiet inter-
vals she was listening for sounds from upstairs. The
night was still and languorous, one of the peaceful
nights of large spaces when the heavens brood over the
earth like a mother over a fretful child. At last no
more cars came booming out of the distance. She shut
the windows and bolted the door; then she prepared
slowly to undress.
For the first time in months she looked at herself
curiously, taking an impersonal, calm survey of this
body. She sought for signs of slovenly decay, — thin-
ning rusty hair, untidy nails, grimy hands, dried skin,
— those marks which she had seen in so many teachers
who had abandoned themselves without hope to the
unmarried state and had grown careless of their bodies.
As she wound her hair into heavy ropes and braided
them, it gave her a sharp sense of joy, this body of hers,
so firm and warm with blood, so unmarked by her sor-
did struggle. It was well to be one's self, to own the
tenement of the soul ; for a time it had not been hers —
she reddened with the shame of the thought ! But she
THE WEB OP LIFE 87
had gained possession once more, never, never to lose
She listened carefully for noises from above; then
flung herself on the couch, utterly wearied. In a mo-
ment she was asleep, having shed the years of pain, and
a frank smile crept over the calm face.
After giving the invalid his breakfast, and arranging
him on his couch where he could see the cars pass, Mrs.
Preston hurried over to the Everglade School, which was
only two blocks west of Stoney Island Avenue. At noon
she slipped out, while the other teachers gathered in one
of the larger rooms to chat and unroll their luncheons.
These were wrapped in little fancy napkins that were
carefully shaken and folded to serve for the next day.
As the Everglade teachers had dismissed Mrs. Preston
from the first as queer, her absence from the noon gossip
was rather welcome, though resented.
The recess hour gave Mrs. Preston enough time to
carry upstairs a cold meal, to take a hasty nibble of
food, and to hurry back across the vacant lots before
the gong should ring for the afternoon session. At the
close of school she returned to the cottage more delib-
erately, to finish her house work before taking her
daily walk. Occasionally she found this work already
performed; Anna Svenson's robust form would greet
her as she entered the cottage, with the apologetic
phrase, "My fingers were restless." Mrs. Svenson had
an unquenchable appetite for work. The two women
would have a silent cup of tea; then Mrs. Svenson
would smile in her broad, apathetic manner, saying,
THE WEB OP LIFE 89
"One lives, you see, after all," and disappear through
the oak copse. Thus very quickly between the school
and the cottage Mrs. Preston's day arranged itself in a
Three days after the unexpected visit from the doctor,
Mrs. Preston found on her return from the school a
woman's bicycle leaning against the gate. Under the
arbor sat the owner of the bicycle, fanning herself with
a little " perky " hat. She wore a short plaid skirt,
high shoes elaborately laced, and a flaming violet waist.
Her eyes were travelling over the cottage and all its
" Miss M'Gann ! " Mrs. Preston exclaimed.
" My ! " the young woman responded, " but they did
send you to kingdom come. You're the next thing,
Alves, to Indiana. I do hope you can get out of this
Mrs. Preston sat down beside her in the little arbor,
and made polite inquiries about the school where they
had taught together, about Jane M'Gann's " beaux," the
" cat," and the " house " where she boarded.
" It was good of you to come all this way to see me,"
"I wanted a ride. We had a half day off — infectious
disease in Eosa Macraw's room. Besides, I told the girls
I'd hunt you out. How are you? You look rather
down. Say, you mustn't shut yourself off here where
folks can't get at you. Why don't you live up town, at
the house ? "
" I can't," Mrs. Preston answered briefly.
90 THE WEB OF LIFE
"Do you know the news? The 'cat' has gone up
higher. They made him supervisor, 'count of his sly
walk, I guess. And we've got a new principal. He's
fine. You can just do what you want with him, if you
handle him right. Oh, do you know Rosemarry King,
the girl that used to dress so queer, has been discharged?
She lived in bachelor-girl apartments with a lot of
artists, and they say they were pretty lively. And
Miss Cohen is going to be married, ain't coming back
any more after this year. Some of us thought we could
work it so as the new principal — Hoff's his name —
would ask to have you transferred back to one of those
places. There's just a chance. Now I've told all my
news and everything!"
At that moment a man's figure appeared at an upper
window. He was in a dressing-gown, and unshaven.
Miss M'Gann's keen vision spied him at once.
" You'll get queer, if you stay here ! " she said
" I guess I am queer already," Mrs. Preston answered
with a smile. "Let us go inside and have some tea."
Miss M'Gann looked the room over critically.
" You must come down to the house some night soon
and meet the principal. He rides a wheel, and we girls
see considerable of him. If you are nice to him, he'll
do anything — he is one of the soft kind, sweet on all
women, and likes a little adoration."
"No, I don't believe I can." Mrs. Preston listened.
There was noise in the chamber above. " Besides, I like
it out here. I like the quiet," she added.
THE "WEB OF LIFE 91
Miss M'Gann looked at her incredulously, as if she were
waiting to hear more. As nothing came, she went on :
"We are having high times over the new readers. The
' cat ' has done a set of readers for the fourth and fifth.
McNamara and Hills are bringing 'em out. The Express
Book Co. has a lot of money in the old ones, and they
are fighting hard to keep the cat's out of the schools.
• They're sending men around to get reports from the
teachers. There's a man, one of .their agents, who comes
over to the house pretty often. He's a college man, was a
professor at Exonia."
" Excuse me," Mrs. Preston interrupted. The contin-
ued noise in the room overhead had made her more and
more nervous. She had not heard Miss M'Gann's story,
which would probably be the preface of a tender personal
episode. " I will be back in a moment," she said, closing
the sitting-room door carefully.
Miss M'Gann sat forward, listening intently. She
could hear the stairs creak under Mrs. Preston's quick
steps ; then there was silence ; then an angry voice, a
man's voice. Excited by this mystery, she rose noise-
lessly and set the hall door ajar. She could hear Alves
Preston's voice :
" You must not come down. You aren't fit."
"Thank you for your advice," a man's voice re-
plied. "Who's your visitor ? Some man? I am going
to see. Don't make a scene."
There was the sound of a scuffle; then the cry of a
woman, as she fell back exhausted from her physical
92 THE WEB OF LIFE
" P'r'aps he's murdering her ! "
Miss M'Gann opened the door at the foot of the stairs
■wide enough to detect a half-elothed man trying to pry
open with one arm a heavy door above. She hesitated
for a moment, but when the man had shoved the door
back a little farther, enough for her to see Mrs. Preston
struggling with all her force, she called out :
" Can I help you, Mrs. Preston ? "
" No, no, go back ! Go out of the house ! "
"Well, I never!" Miss M'Gann ejaculated, and re-
treated to the sitting room, leaving the door ajar, however.
The struggle ended shortly, and soon the man appeared,
plunging, tumbling over the stairs. Wrenching open the
front door he stumbled down the steps to the road. He
was hatless, collarless, and his feet were shod in slippers.
As he reached the gate he looked at himself as if accus-
tomed to take pride in his personal appearance, drew a
handkerchief from his pocket and wound it negligently
about his neck. Then, gazing about to get his bearings,
he aimed for the road. Just as he crossed the car tracks,
heading for the saloon with the big sign, Mrs. Preston
entered the room. Her face was pale and drawn. Miss
M'Gann was too embarrassed to speak, and she pre-
tended to look into the kitchen.
" You will see now why I don't want a transfer," Mrs.
Preston began, to break the awkward silence. " I must
look after my husband."
« My ! " Miss M'Gann exclaimed, and then restrained
herself. She nodded her head slowly, and crossed to
where Mrs. Preston had seated herself.
THE WEB OF LIFE 93
"But it's terrible to think of you here alone," she
remarked gently. She had intended to put her arm
about Mrs. Preston's waist, but something deterred her.
" I wish I could come out and stay right on. I'm going
to spend the night, anyway. Father was that kind,"
she added in a lower voice.
Mrs. Preston winced under her sympathy and shook her
head. "No, no ! I am better alone. You mustn't stay."
"You'd ought to have some woman here," the girl
insisted, with the feminine instinct for the natural
league of women. " At least, some one to look after the
house and keep you company."
"I have thought of trying to find a servant," Mrs.
Preston admitted. "But what servant — "she left the
sentence unfinished, " even if I could pay the wages,"
she continued. " Anna comes in sometimes — she's a
young Swede who has a sister in the school. But Pve
got to get on alone somehow."
" Well, if that's what getting married is, it's no won-
der more of us girls don't get married, as I told Mr.
There was a knock at the outside door. Miss M'Gann
quickly barricaded herself behind the long table, while
Mrs. Preston opened the door and admitted the visitor.
Miss M'Gann came forward with evident relief, and Mrs.
Preston introduced her visitors, " Dr. Sommers^ Miss
Miss M'Gann greeted the doctor warmly.
" Why, this must be Mr. Dresser's Dr. Sommers." The
young doctor bowed and look annoyed. Miss M'Gann,
94 THE WEB OF LIFE
finding that she could get little from either of the two
silent people, took her leave.
" I'll not forget you, dear," she said, squeezing Mrs.
"When she had ridden away, Mrs. Preston returned to
the little sitting room and dropped wearily into a chair.
" He has just gone, escaped ! " she exclaimed. " Just
before you came."
The doctor whistled. " Do you know where he's gone
She pointed silently to the low wooden building across
the neighboring avenue.
" If he makes a row, it will all get out. I shall lose
The doctor nodded.
" Has it happened before ? "
" He's tried of late. But I have kept him in and
barred the door. This time he forced it open. I was
not strong enough to hold it."
The doctor hesitated a moment, and then, as if making
a sudden resolve, he took his hat.
" I'll try to bring him back."
From the open window she could see him walk leisurely
down the lane to the street, and pick his way carefully
over the broken planks of the sidewalk to the avenue.
Then he disappeared behind the short shutters that
crossed the door of the saloon.
For some reason this seemed the one thing unbearable
in her experience. The bitterness of it all welled up
and overflowed in a few hot tears that stung her hands
THE WEB OP LIFE 95
as they dropped slowly from the burning eyes. It was a
long time before the little blinds swung out, and the doc-
tor appeared with her husband. Preston was talking
affably, fluently, and now and then he tapped the doctor
familiarly on his shoulders to emphasize a remark. Som-
mers responded enough to keep his companion's interest.
Once he gently restrained him, as the hatless man plunged
carelessly forward in front of an approaching ear. As
the pair neared the house, the woman at the window
could hear the rapid flow of talk. Preston was excited,
self-assertive, and elaborately courteous.
"After you, doctor. Will you come upstairs to my
room ? " she caught as they entered the gate. " My wife,
doctor, is all right, good woman; but, like the rest of
And the babbling continued until some one closed the
heavy door at the head of the stairs. Then there was
noise, as of a man getting into bed. In time it was quiet,
and just as she was about to make the effort of finding
out what had happened, Sommers came downstairs and
signed to her to sit down.
" I have given him a hypodermic injection. He won't
trouble you any more to-night," he said, staring dreamily
out into the twilight.
" This is too much for you," Sommers observed finally.
After his meditation he had come to much the same
obvious conclusion that Miss M'Gann had formed previ-
ously. The woman moved wearily in her chair.
" It can't go on," the doctor proceeded. " No one can
tell what he might do in his accesses — what violence lie
would do to you, to himself."
'■' He may get better," she suggested.
Sommers shook his head slowly.
" I am afraid not ; the only thing to be hoped for is
that he will get worse, much worse, as rapidly as
Mrs. Preston stood his questioning eyes as he delivered
this unprofessional opinion.
"Meantime you must protect yourself. The least
harm his outbreaks will do will be to make a scandal, to
make it necessary for you to leave your school."
" What can I do ? " she asked, almost irritably.
" There are institutions."
" I have no money."
" And I suppose they would not do, now, while he is
apparently getting better. They would not help him,
even if we should get him confined. His is one of those
cases where the common law prescribes liberty."
THE WEB OP LIFE 97
There was nothing further to say in this direction.
Sommers seemed to be thinking. At last, with an im-
pulsive motion, he exclaimed :
"It should not have been! Ho, it should not have
He paused. Her eyes had lowered from his face.
She knew his unexpressed thought.
"And more than that, if you and I and the world
thought straight, he would not be here now."
"No, I suppose not," she acquiesced quietly, following
his thought word by word. . " Well, as it is', I guess it's
for life — for my life, at least."
" If one could only love enough — " he mused.
" Love ! " she exclaimed passionately, at this blasphe-
mous intrusion. " Does one love such as that, — the man
who betrayed your youth ? "
"Not you and I. But one who could love enough — "
Her disdainful smile stopped him.
" I followed him to the hospital. I took him here, I
don't know why. I guess it's my fate. He was. once
mine, and I can't escape that — but as to love — do you
think I am as low as that ? "
" You have no duties except the duties love makes,"
the doctor suggested. " He is no longer even the man
you married. He is not a man in any sense of the word.
He is merely a failure, a mistake ; and if society is
afraid to rid itself of him, society must provide for
" Yes, yes," she murmured, as if all this were familiar
ground to her mind. " But I am the nearest member of
98 THE WEB OP LIFE
society — the one whose business it is to attend to this
mistake. It's my contribution," she ended with a feeble
" Society has no right to expect too much from any
one. The whole sacrifice mustn't fall where it crushes.
I say that such a case should be treated by the public
authorities, and should be treated once for all."
She rose and looked into his eyes, as if to say, 'You
were society, and you did not dare.' In a moment
she turned away, and said, "Don't you believe in a
soul ? "
"Yes," he smiled back. "And that poor soul and
others like it, many, many thousands, who cannot grow,
should be at rest — one long rest; to let other souls
grow, unblasted by their foul touch."
"I have thought so," she replied calmly, taking his
belief as an equal. "To let joy into the world some-
where before death." Her wistful tone rang out into
the room. " But that would be murder," she continued.
" We should have to call it murder, shouldn't we ? And
that is a fearful word. I could never quite forget it. I
should always ask myself if I were right, if I had the
right to judge. I am a coward. The work is too much
" We will not think of it," Sommers replied abruptly,
unconsciously putting himself in company with her, as
she had herself with him. " We have but to follow the
conventions of medicine and wait."
"Medicine, medicine," he continued irritably. "All
THE WEB OP LIFE 99
our medicine is but a contrivance to keep up the farce,
to continue the ills of humanity, to keep the wretched
and diseased where they have no right to be ! "
" And you are a doctor ! How can you be ? "
"Because," he answered in the same tone of unpro-
fessional honesty that he had used toward her, "like
most men, I am a coward and conventional. I have
learned to do as the others do. Medicine and educa-
tion ! " Sommers laughed ironically. " They are the two
sciences where men turn and turn and emit noise and do
nothing. The doctor and the teacher learn a few tricks
and keep on repeating them as the priest does the cere-
mony of the mass."
"That's about right for the teacher," she laughed.
"We cut our cloth almost all alike."
Unconsciously they drifted farther and farther into
intimacy. Sommers talked as he thought, with question
and protest, intolerant of conventions, of formulas.
They forgot the diseased burden that lay in the chamber
above, with its incessant claims, its daily problems.
They forgot themselves, thus strangely brought to-
gether and revealed to each other, at one glance as it
were, without the tiresome preliminary acquaintance-
ship of civilization. It had grown dark in the room
before Sommers came back to the reality of an evening
" You can get a train on the railroad west of the
avenue," Mrs. Preston suggested. "But won't you let
me give you something to eat ? "
"Not this time," Sommers answered, taking his hat
100 THE WEB OP LIFE
" Perhaps when I come again — in a few days. I want
to think — what can be done."
She did not urge him to stay. She was surprised at
her boldness in suggesting it. He had assumed the
impersonal, professional manner once more. That
precious hour of free talk had been but an episode, a
relaxation. He gave directions as he went ' to the
" The patient will sleep till to-morrow. It will take
two or three days to get over this relapse."
Then he took a pad from his pocket and scribbled a
" Should he grow unmanageable, you had better give
him one of these powders — two, if necessary. But no
more ; they are pretty strong."
He placed the leaf of pencilled paper on the table.
The next minute his rapid footsteps crunched on the
gravel path. Even after he was gone and she was left
quite alone in her old condition, the dead, nerveless
sense of despair did not return. An unreasonable light-
ness of spirit buoyed her — a feeling that after a desolate
winter a new season was coming, that her little world
was growing larger, lighting indefinably with rare
The engagement was not one to be missed, at least
by a young professional man who bad bis way to make,
his patients to assemble, in the fierce struggle of Chicago.
The occasion was innocent enough and stupid enough, —
a lecture at the Carsons' by one of the innumerable
lecturers to the polite world that infest large cities.
The Pie-Aztec Kemains in Mexico, Sommers surmised,
were but a subterfuge ; this lecture was merely one of
the signs that the Carsons had arrived at a certain
stage in their pilgrimage.
They had come from Omaha five years before ; they
were on their way to New York, where they would be
due five years hence. From railroad law, Carson had
grown to the business of organizing monopolies. Some
of his handiworks in this order of art had been among
the first to take the field. He was resting now, while
the country was suffering from its prolonged fit of the
blues, and his wife was organizing their social life.
They had picked up a large house on the North Bou-
levard, a bargain ready for their needs ; it had been
built for the Bid wells, just before the panic.
A rapid glance over the rooms proved to Sommers
that Mrs. Carson was as clever a manipulator of capi-
talists as her husband. There were a few of the more
103 THE WEB OE LIFE
important people of the city, such, as Alexander Hitch-
cock, Ferdinand Dunster, the Polot families, the Blais-
dells, the Anthons. There were also a few of the more
distinctly "smart "people, and a number who might be
counted as social possibilities. Sommers had seen some-
thing in a superficial way of many of these people.
Thanks to the Hitchcocks' introduction, and also to the
receptive attitude of a society that was still very largely
fluid, he had gone hither and thither pretty widely dur-
ing this past year. There were quieter, less pretentious
circles than this in which the Carsons aspired to move,
but he had not yet found them. Anything that had a
retiring disposition disappeared from sight in Chicago.
Society was still a collection of heterogeneous names
that appeared daily in print. As such it offered un-
rivalled opportunities for aspiration.
Sommers had not come to the Carsons in the fulfil-
ment of an aspiration. Mrs. R. Gordon Carson bored
him. Her fussy conscious manners bespoke too plainly
the insignificant suburban society in which she had
played a minor part. He came because Dr. Lindsay
had told him casually that Louise Hitchcock was in
town again. He arrived late, when the lecture was
nearly over, and lingered in the hall on the fringe of the
Carson had soine reputation for his pictures. There
was one, a Sargent, a portrait of the protagonist in this
little drama of success, that hung in a recess of the hall
at the foot of the stairs. E. Gordon Carson, as the great
psychologist had seen him, was a striking person, an em-
THE WEB OF LIFE 103
bodiment of modern waywardness, an outcropping of the
trivial and vulgar. In a sacque coat, 'with the negligent
lounging air of the hotel foyer, he stared at you, this Mr.
It. Gordon Carson, impudently almost, very much at his
ease. Narrow head, high forehead, thin hair, large eyes,
a great protruding nose, a thin chin, smooth-shaven, yet
with a bristly complexion, — there he was, the man from
an Iowa farm, the man from the Sioux Falls court-house,
the man from Omaha, the man now fully ripe from Chi-
cago. Here was no class, no race, nothing in order; a
feature picked up here, another there, a third developed,
a fourth dormant — the whole memorable but unforgiv-
Not far away, standing in the doorway of the next
room, was Carson himself. The great painter had un-
dressed him and revealed him. What a comment to
hang in one's own home ! The abiding impression of
the portrait was self-assurance ; hasty criticism would
have called it conceit. All the deeper qualities of hu-
manity were rubbed out for the sake of this one great
expression of egotism.
When the lecture was finished, a little group formed
about the host ; he was telling his experience with the
great master, a series of anecdotes that had made his
way in circles where success was not enough.
" I knew he was a hard customer," Sommers overheard
him saying, "and I gave him all the rope he wanted.
' It may be two years before I do anything on your por-
trait, Mr. Carson,' he said.
" ( Take five,' I told him.
104 THE WEB OF LIFE
" ' I shall charge five thousand.'
"'Make it ten/ said I.
" ' I shall paint your ears.'
" ' And the nose too.'
" Well, he sent it to me inside of a year with his com r
pliments. The fancy struck him, he wrote. It was easy
to do; I was a good type and all that. Well, there
He turned on an additional bunch of electric lights
before the picture.
"Good, isn't it?" Miss Hitchcock exclaimed behind
"Too good," he muttered. "I shouldn't have dared
to hang it."
The girl's smooth brow contracted.
" Don't you think it was fine, though, his making up
his mind out there in Sioux Falls that what he wanted
was pictures, and the best pictures, and that he'd have
Sargent do his portrait ? "
" No more than it's fine for all the rest of these well-
dressed men and women to make up their minds that
they want to be rich and luxurious and important and
Her face became still more puzzled.
" But it is fine ! And the successful people are the
"That has nothing to do with the matter," he returned
" Don't you think so ? " she replied distantly, with a
note of reproof in her voice. He was too young, too
THE WEB OF LIFE 105
unimportant to cast such aspersion upon this comforta-;
ble, good-natured world where there was so much fun to
be had. She could not see the possessing image in his
mind, the picture of the afternoon — the unsuccessful 1/
" There is nothing honorable in wealth," he added, as
she turned to examine a delicate landscape. Her eyes
" It means — "
" All this," he moved his hand contemptuously. " Ah,
yes, and a lot more," he added, as her lip trembled. " It
shows power and ability and thrift and purpose and
provides means for generosity and philanthropy. But it ^
" What do you mean ? "
"Because it turns the people who have it into a
class that come to feel themselves divinely appointed, y
Whereas it is all a gamble, a lucky gamble ! "
" Not all wealth is a lucky gamble ! " she retorted hotly.
Sommers paused, discomfited at the personal turn to
"I think the most successful would be the first to
admit it," he answered thoughtfully.
"I don't understand 'you," the girl replied more
calmly. " I suppose you are a socialist, or something of
that sort. I can't understand such matters well enough
to argue with you. And I hoped to find you in another
mood when I came back ; but we fall out always, it seems,
over the most trivial matters."
"I am afraid I am very blunt," he said contritely.
THE WEB OE LIFE
" I came here to find you ; what do you want me to talk
about, — Stewart's engagement to Miss Polot? It was
given the chief place in the newspaper this morning."
" Sh, sh ! " Miss Hitchcock exclaimed cautiously.
Little groups were moving in and out of the rooms, and
at that moment a pale-faced, slight young man came up
to Miss Hitchcock.
" May I offer my congratulations ? " she said, turning
to him with the smile that Sommers's remark had caused
still on her lips. The young man simpered, uttered the
requisite platitude, and moved away.
" Did you congratulate him on the Polot connection
or on the girl ? " the young doctor asked.
" You don't know Estelle Polot ! She is impossible.
But Burton Stewart has got just what he wanted. No
one thought that he would do as well as that. You
know they are fearfully rich — she can't escape having
a number of millions. Don't you think a man of forty
is to be congratulated on having what he has been look-
ing for for twenty years ? "
Miss Hitchcock's neat, nonchalant enunciation gave
the picture additional relief.
" I don't see how he has the face to show himself.
All these people are laughing about it."
" It is a bad case, but don't you believe that they are
not envying him and praising him. He is a clever man,
and he won't let the Polot money go to waste. He has
taken the largest purse — the rest were too light."
Miss Hitchcock seemed to find infinite resources of
mirth in the affair. Other people drifted by them.
THE WEB OP LIFE 107
Several of the younger women stopped and exchanged
amused glances with Miss Hitchcock.
"He's been attentive to all these," Miss Hitchcock
explained to Sommers.
" The Polot money is very bad, isn't it ? "
Miss Hitchcock shrugged her shoulders.
" It is current coin."
" The system is worse than the dot and mariage de con-
venanoe. There is no pretension of sentiment in that, at
least. See him hanging over the girl — faugh ! "
" You are crude," Miss Hitchcock admitted, candidly.
"Let us move out of this crowd. Some one will over-
They sauntered into the dimly lighted hall, where there
were fewer people, and he continued truculently :
" I remember that side by side with the report of Miss
Polot's engagement was a short account of the starvation
at Pullman, and another column was headed, 'Nothing
to arbitrate : Pullman says he has nothing to arbitrate.'
Did you see that the reporters carefully estimated just
how much Miss Polot's share of the plunder would be ? "
" What you need is golf. I have been teaching papa
at the Springs. It is a great resource, and it increases
your sense of humor."
"It doesn't seem to have rested you," Sommers an-
swered. " You are tired or worried."
" Worse yet ! " she laughed nervously. " Clearly, you
won't do. You must go back to Marion."
She looked up at him from her low seat with brilliant,
108 THE WEB OP LIFE
" I have thought of that. It would not be the worst
thing that could happen. Would you think it possible
— Marion ? " he asked clumsily.
Her eyes did not fall, but rested steadily on his face.
Under this clear gaze his remark appeared to him pre-
posterous. She seemed to show him how precipitate,
unformed, — crude, as she said, — all his acts were. In-
stead of answering his question, she said gently :
" Yes, you are right. I am worried, and I came here to-
night to escape it. But one doesn't escape worries with
you. One increases them. You make me feel guilty,
uncomfortable. Now get me something thoroughly cold,
and perhaps we can have that long-promised talk."
"When Sommers returned with a glass of champagne, a
number of men had gathered about Miss Hitchcock, and
she left him on the outside, intentionally it seemed,
while she chatted with them, bandying allusions that
meant nothing to him. Sommers saw that he had been a
bore. He slipped out of the group and wandered into
the large library, where the guests were eating and drink-
ing. A heavy, serious man, whom he had seen at various
places, spoke to him. He said something about the
lecture, then something about Miss Polot's engagement.
" They'll go to New York," he ventured. " Stewart has
some position there, some family." He talked about the
Stewarts and the Polots, and finally he went to the
dressing room to smoke.
Sommers had made up his mind to leave, and was
looking for Mrs. Carson, when he came across Miss
THE WEB OP LIFE 109
" The man you were talking with i8 quite a tragedy,"
she said unconcernedly, picking up the conversation
where she had dropped it. " I knew him when he left
college. He was an athletic fellow, a handsome man.
His people were nice, but not rich. He was planning to
go to Montana to take a place in some mines, but he got
engaged to the daughter of a very wealthy man. He
didn't go. He married Miss Prudence Fisher, and he
has simply grown fat. It's an old story — "
" And a tragic enough one. We ought to change the
old proverb, ' It is easier for a camel to pass through the
eye of the needle than for a poor man to marry a rich
man's daughter.' "
" It ought not to be so, if the man were a man."
She dwelt upon the last word until the young doctor's
face flushed. Then with the sudden transition of mood,
which so often perplexed Sommers, she said gently,
"You are quite right. My journey did me no good.
There were worries, and we can't go away this sum-
mer. The business situation will keep papa here, and
he is so lonely without me that I hadn't the heart to
suggest leaving him. So we have taken a house at Lake
Forest. I shall teach you golf at the new Country Club,
if you will deign to waste your time on us. You will
see more of these good people."
" You must think me — " Sommers began penitently.
"Yes, they would say 'raw' and 'green.' I don't
know. I must go now."
A few minutes later, Sommers met Colonel Hitchcock
110 THE WEB OP LIFE
in the dressing room. As lie was leaving, the old mer-
chant detained him.
"Are you going north? Perhaps you ■will wait for
me and let me take you to the city. Louise is going on
to a dance."
Sommers waited outside the room. From the bedroom
at the end of the hall came a soft murmur of women's
voices. He hoped that Miss Hitchcock would appear
before her father took him off. He should like to see
her again — to hear her voice. Every moment some one
nodded to him, distracting his attention, but his eyes
reverted immediately to the end of the hall. Men and
women were passing out, down the broad staircase that
ended in front of the intelligent portrait. The women in
rich opera cloaks, the men in black capes carrying their
crush hats under their arms, were all alike ; they were
more like every other collection of the successful in the
broad earth than one might have expected.
Sommers caught bits of the conversation.
" Jim has taken the Paysons' place."
"Is that so ? We are going to York."
" — Shall join them in Paris — dinner 'last Friday
— did you see The Second Mrs. Tanqueray — our horses
are always ill — "
. It sounded like the rustle of skirts, the stretching of
kid. There was dulness in the atmosphere. Yet if it
was dull, Sommers realized that it was his own fault —
a conclusion he usually took away with him from the
feasts of the rich which he attended. He lacked the
power to make the most of his opportunities. The
THE WEB OE LIEE 111
ability to cultivate acquaintances, to push his way into a
good place in this sleek company of the well-to-do, —
an ability characteristically American, — he was utterly
without. It would be better for him, he reflected with
depression, to return to Marion, Ohio, or some similar
side-track of the world, or to reenter the hospital and
bury himself in a quite subordinate position.
There was still an eddy of guests about the host and
his wife near the great portrait. They were laughing
loudly. Carson's thin face was beaming. Even Mrs.
Carson's face had lost some of its tension. Sommers
could watch her manner from his position in the upper
hall. She was dismissing a minor guest with a metallic
smile. ' To aspire to this ! ' he murmured unconsciously.
' This, the triumph of success ! '
" Still waiting ? "
Miss Hitchcock was passing, her long wrap trailing
lightly behind. Her eyes glowed underneath a white
" I am ready to go now," Sommers replied. " You
are too tired for the dance."
" I must go — I can't bear to miss anything. It is
stupid — but it is exciting at the same time. G-ood-by.
Kemember, Lake Forest in a fortnight. And learn to
take it easily ! "
She smiled and disappeared in the wake of Mrs. Porter.
How easily she seemed to take it! The man she mar-
ried would have to be of the world, as large a world as
she could contrive to get. She would always be " going
on." Imaginatively, with the ignorance of a young man, j
112 THE WEB OP LIFE
he attributed to her appetites for luxury, for power, for
success. He was merely an instance of her tolerance.
Eeally he was a very little thing in her cosmos, and if
he wished to be more, he would have to take an interest
in just this.
Colonel Hitchcock came out at last, in close conversation
with old Blaisdell. They were talking business. Hitch-
cock's kindly face was furrowed and aged, Sommers
noticed. The old merchant put his arm through the
young doctor's, and with this support Sommers received
the intimate farewell from Mrs. Carson.
Colonel Hitchcock ordered the driver to take them to
the Metropolitan Club.
" Our talk may take us some time," he explained. " I
have been trying to find you for several days. I have
something to ask you to do for me. You may think it
strange that I should go to you instead of to one of my
old friends. But it is something Isaac would have
done for me. It is for my boy."
The weariness of years was in his voice. As briefly
and as simply as he could, he stated the matter. Parker
had disappeared ; he had gone to New York and there
drawn heavily on his father. The journey which Colonel
Hitchcock had made with his daughter had been largely
for the purpose of finding Parker, and had failed. The boy
was ashamed to come back. Now there was a clew, but it
seemed unwise for the father to follow it up himself.
" I don't understand the boy," Colonel Hitchcock con-
cluded. " I'm afraid everything I do is wrong. I get
angry. I have no patience with his polo, his spending
THE "WEB OF LIFE 113
so much money uselessly — he spends ten times as much
money as any man among my friends did at his age."
"You have ten times as much as any one of their
fathers had," Sommers protested with a smile.
"Well, then, I guess I had better stop, if that's
what it means. He may find there isn't so much after
all. This panic is pushing me. I can't leave Chicago
another day. He should be here fighting with me, help-
ing me — and he is sneaking in some hotel, with his tail
between his legs."
He breathed heavily at the bitterness of the thought.
Everything in his life had been honorable, open to all :
he had fought fair and hard and long — for this.
" If it weren't for Louise and his mother, I would let
him starve until he was ready to come home. But his
mother is ill — she can't be troubled."
" And you can't let him disgrace himself publicly —
do something that would make it hard for him to come
back at all," Sommers suggested.
" No, I suppose not," the older man admitted, with a
grateful glance. " I can't refuse to help him, poor boy ;
perhaps I have made him weak."
Sommers offered to do what he could, — to hunt Parker
up, get him on his feet, and bring him back to Chi-
cago. He would leave that night. They had stopped
at the club to finish their talk, and while Colonel Hitch-
cock was writing some letters, Sommers drove to his
rooms for his bag. It was nearly midnight before he
returned. As they drove over to the station, Colonel
Hitchcock said :
114 THE WEB OP LIFE
" I have told him the whole thing : how hard pressed
I am ; how his mother is worrying and ill — well, I don't
feel it will make much difference. He could see all
"You must remember that he has always had every
inducement to enjoy himself," the young doctor ven-
tured. " He doesn't understand your life. You sent
him to a very nice private school, and whenever he failed
got him tutors. You made him feel that he was a
special case in the world. And he has always been
thrown with boys and young men who felt they were
special cases. At college he lived with the same
set — "
" His mother and I wanted him to start with every
advantage, to have a gentleman's education. At home
he's seen nothing of extravagance and self-indulgence."
Sommers nodded sympathetically. It was useless to
discuss the matter. The upright, courageous old mer-
chant, whose pride was that he had never committed one
mean action in the accumulation of his fortune, could
never understand this common misfortune. He belonged
to, a different world from that in which his son was to
take his part. They turned to other topics, — the busi-
ness depression, the strike, the threatened interference
of the American Railway Union.
" Blaisdell, who is the general manager of the C. K.
and G-.," Colonel Hitchcock remarked, "was saying to-
night that he expected the Pullman people would induce
the A. E. U. to strike. If they stir up the unions all
over the country, business will get worse and worse.
THE "WEB OE LIFE 115
All we needed to make things as bad as can be was a
great railroad strike."
" I suppose so," Sommers responded. " Why won't
the Pullman people consent to arbitrate ? "
The old merchant shook his head.
"They'd divide their twenty millions of surplus and
go out of business first. They say they're saving money
on the strike. Did you ever know of people with the
whip-hand who had anything to- arbitrate ? "
Dr. Lindsay's offices were ingeniously arranged on
three sides of the Athenian Building. The patient
entering from the hall, just beside the elevators, passed
by a long, narrow corridor to the waiting room, and
thence to one of the tiny offices of the attending physi-
cians ; or, if he were fortunate enough, he was led at once
to the private office of the great Lindsay, at the end of
the inner corridor. By a transverse passage he was then
shunted off to a door that opened into the public hall
just opposite the elevator well. The incoming patient
was received by a woman clerk, who took his name, and
was dismissed by another woman clerk, who collected
fees and made appointments. If he came by special
appointment, several stages in his progress were omitted,
and he passed at once to one of the smaller offices, where
he waited until the machine was ready to proceed with
his case. Thus in the office there was a perpetual stream
of the sick and suffering, in, around, out, crossed by the
coming and going through transverse passages of the
" staff," the attendants, the clerks, messengers, etc. Each
atom in the stream was welling over with egotistic woes,
far too many for the brief moment in which he would be
closeted with the great one, who held the invisible keys
of relief, who penetrated this mystery of human malad-
THE WEB OF LIFE 117
justrnent. It was a busy, toiling, active, subdued place,
where the tinkle of the telephone bell, the hum of elec-
tric annunciators, as one member of the staff signalled to
another, vibrated in the tense atmosphere. Into this
hive poured the suffering, mounting from the street, load
after load, in the swiftly flying cages ; their visit made,
their joss-sticks burned, they dropped down once more to
the chill world below, where they must carry on the bur-
den of living.
The attending physicians arrived at nine. The " shop,"
as they called it, opened at ten; Lindsay was due at
eleven and departed at three. Thereafter the hive grad-
ually emptied, and by four the stenographers and clerks
were left alone to attend to purely business matters.
Sommers came late the day after his return from New
York. The general door being opened to admit a patient,
he walked in and handed his coat and hat to the boy in
buttons at the door. The patient who had entered with
him was being questioned by the neat young woman
whose business it was to stand guard at the outer door.
" What is your name, please ? "
Her tones were finely adjusted to the caste of the
patient. Judging from the icy sharpness on this occasion,
the patient was not high in the scale.
" Caroline Ducharme," the woman replied.
" Write it out, please."
The patient did so with some difficulty, scrawling half
over the neat pad the clerk pushed toward her.
" You wish to consult Dr. Lindsay ? "
"The big doctor, — yes, mum."
118 THE WEB OF LIFE
" Did he make an appointment with you ? "
" Have you been here before ? "
" No, mum."
" You -will have to pay the fee in advance."
"What's that, please?"
" Ten dollars."
The clerk tapped irritably on her desk with her pencil.
" Yes, ten dollars for the first visit ; five after that ;
operations from fifty to five hundred."
The woman clutched tightly a small reticule. "I
hain't the money ! " she exclaimed at last. " I thought
it would be two dollars."
" You'll have to go to the hospital, then."
The clerk turned to a pile of letters.
" Don't he see nobody here without he pays ten ? " th&
" Where is the hospital ? "
" St. Isidore's — the clinic is every other Saturday at
" But my head hurts awful bad. The doctor up our
way don't know anything about it."
The clerk no longer answered; she had turned half
around in her swivel-chair. Sommers leaned over her
desk, and said, —
" Show her into my room, No. 3, Miss Clark."
" Dr. Lindsay is very particular," the clerk protested.
" I will be responsible," Sommers answered sharply, in
THE WEB OP LIFE 119
the tone he had learned to use with hospital clerks when
they opposed his will. He turned to get his mail. The
clerk shrugged her shoulders with a motion that said,
'Take her there yourself.' Sommers beckoned to the
woman to follow him. He took her to one of the little
compartments on the inner corridor, which was lined with
strange devices : electrical machines, compressed air
valves, steam sprays — all the enginery of the latest
"Now what is it?" he asked gruffly. He was vexed
that the matter should occur at this time, when he was on
rather cool terms with Lindsay. The case proved to be
an interesting one, however. There were nervous compli-
cations; it could not be diagnosed at a glance. After
spending half an hour in making a careful examination,
he gave the woman a preliminary treatment, and dis-
missed her with directions to call the next day.
" You will lose your eyesight, if you don't take care,"
he said. " We'll see to-morrow."
" No," the woman shook her head. " I've had enough
of her lip. You'se all right ; but I guess I'll have to go
blind. I can't stand your prices. Here's two dollars,
all I got."
She held out a dirty bill.
" In the world ? " Sommers added smilingly. It was
a familiar formula.
"Just about," she admitted defiantly. "And if my
eyes go back on me, I guess 'twill be St. Isidore, or St.
Somebody. You see I need my eyes pretty bad just now
for one thing."
120 THE WEB OP LIFE
"What's that?" the doctor asked good-naturedly,
waring the money aside.
"To look for Mm. He's in Chicago somewheres, I
" Ducharme ? " the doctor inquired carelessly.
The woman nodded, her not uncomely broad face
assuming a strange expression of determined fierceness.
At that moment an assistant rapped at the door with a
summons from Dr. Lindsay.
"Turn up this evening, then, at the address on this
card," Sommers said to Mrs. Ducharme, handing her his
He would have preferred hearing that story about
Ducharme to charging old P. F. Wort with electricity.
He went through the treatment with his accustomed
deftness, however. As he was leaving the room, Dr.
Lindsay asked him to wait.
" Mr. Porter is about to go abroad, to try the baths at
Marienbad. I have advised him to take one of our doc-
tors with him to look after his diet and comfort in travel-
ling, — one that can continue our treatment and be com-
•panionable. It will just take the dull season. I'd like
to run over myself, but my affairs — "
Lindsay completed the idea by sweeping his broad,
fleshy hand over the large office desk, which was loaded
with letters, reports, and documents of various kinds.
" What d'ye say, Sommers ? "
" Do you think Porter would want me ? " Sommers
asked idly. He had seen in the paper that morning
that Porter was out of town, and was going to Europe
THE WEB OF LIFE 121
for his health. Porter had been out of town, persistently,
ever since the Pullman strike had grown ugly. The
duties of the directors were performed, to all intents and
purposes, by an under-official, a third vice-president.
Those duties at present consisted chiefly in saying from
day to day : " The company has nothing to arbitrate.
There is a strike; the men have a right to strike. The
company doesn't interfere with the men," etc. The third
vice-president could make these announcements as judi-
ciously as the great Porter.
"I have an idea," continued Sommers, "that Porter
might not want me ; he has never been over-cordial."
"Nonsense!" replied the busy doctor. "Porter will
take any one I advise him to. All expenses and a
thousand dollars — very good pay."
" Is Porter very ill ? " Sommers asked. " I thought he
was in fair health, the last time I saw him."
Lindsay looked at the young doctor with a sharp,
experienced glance. There was a half smile on his face
as he answered soberly :
" Porter has been living rather hard. He needs a rest
— fatty degeneration may set in."
" Brought on by the strike ? "
Lindsay smiled broadly this time.
" Coincident with the strike, let us say."
"I don't believe I can leave Chicago just now," the
young doctor replied finally.
Lindsay stared at him as if he were demented.
" I've a case or two I am interested in," Sommers
explained nonchalantly. "Nothing much, but I don't
122 THE WEB OF LIFE
care to leave. Besides, I don't think Porter would be an
" Very well," Lindsay replied indifferently. " French
will go — a jolly, companionable, chatty fellow."
The young doctor felt that Lindsay was enumerating
pointedly the qualities he lacked.
" Porter's connection will be worth thousands to the
man he takes to. He's in a dozen different corporations
where they pay good salaries to physicians. Of course,
if you've started a practice already — "
" I don't suppose my cases are good for ten dollars."
Lindsay's handsome, gray-whiskered face expressed a
" There's another matter I'd like to speak about — "
"The patient Ducharme?" Sommers asked quickly.
"I don't know her name, — the woman Miss Clark
says you admitted against my rules. You know there
are the free dispensaries for those who can't pay,
and, indeed, I give my own services. I cannot af-
ford to maintain this plant without fees. In short,
I am surprised at such a breach of professional eti-
Sommers got up from his seat nervously and then sat
down again. Lindsay undoubtedly had the right to do
exactly what he pleased on his own premises.
"Very well," he replied shortly. "It shan't occur
again. I have told the Ducharme woman to call at my
rooms for treatment, and I will give Miss Clark her
ten dollars. She was an exceptionally interesting and
THE WEB OE LIEE 123
Lindsay elevated his eyebrows politely.
" Yes, yes, but you know we specialists are so liable
to be imposed upon. Every one tries to escape his fee ;
no one would employ Carson, for example, unless he had
the means to pay his fee, would he ? "
" The cases are not exactly parallel."
"All cases of employment are parallel," Lindsay
replied with emphasis. " Every man is entitled to what
he can get, from the roustabout on the wharf to our
friend Porter, and no more."
"I have often thought," Sommers protested rather
vaguely, " that clergymen and doctors should be em-
ployed by the state to do what they can; it isn't
much ! "
" There are the hospitals." Lindsay got up from his
chair at the sound of an electric bell. " And our very
best professional men practise there, give their time and
money and strength. You will have to excuse me, as
Mr. Carson has an appointment, and I have already kept
him waiting. Will you see Mrs. Winter and young
Long at eleven thirty and eleven forty-five ? "
As Sommers was leaving, Lindsay called out over
his shoulder, " And can you take the clinic, Saturday ?
I must go to St. Louis in consultation. General
R. P. Atkinson, president of the Omaha and Gulf, an old
friend — "
" Shall be delighted," the young doctor replied with
As he stepped into the corridor, one of the young
women clerks was filling in an appointment slip on the
124 THE WEB OE LIFE
long roll that hung on a metal cylinder. This was ai
improved device, something like a cash-register machine
that printed off the name opposite a certain hour tha
was permanently printed on the slip. The hours of th
office day were divided into five-minute periods, but, a
two assisting physicians . were constantly in attendanci
beside Sommers, the allotted time for each patient wa,
about fifteen minutes.
"Mrs. Winter is in No. 3," the clerk told him. " Lorn
in No. 1, and Mr. Harrison and a Miss Frost in thi
So the machine ground on. Even the prescription
were formularized to such an extent that most of then
were stencilled and went by numbers. The clerk at thi
end of the corridor handed the patient a little card, oi
which was printed No. 3033, No. 3127, etc., as he circlet
by in the last turn of the office. There was an apothecary
store on the floor below, where the patient could sit in ai
r easy -chair and read the papers while the prescriptioi
called for by his number was being fetched by an elegan
Sommers hurried through with Mrs. Winter, who wai
a fussy, nervous little woman from the West Side ; sh<
resented having " a young feller " thrust on her.
"I knew Dr. Lindsay when he was filling prescrip
tions on Madison Street," she said spitefully.
Sommers smiled. " That must have been a good while
ago, before Chicago was a big place."
"Before you was born, young man; before all thi
doctors who could came down here in a bunch and set uj
THE WEB OF LIEE 125
offices and asked fees enough of a body to keep 'em
going for a year ! "
Then young Long; then one, two, three new patients,
who had to have physical examinations before being
admitted to Lindsay. Once or twice Lindsay sent for
Sommers to assist him in a delicate matter, and Sommers
hurried off, leaving his half-dressed patient to cool his
heels before a radiator. After the examinations there
was an odd patient or two that Lindsay had left when
he had gone out to lunch with some gentlemen at the
Metropolitan Club. By two o'clock Sommers got away
to take a hasty luncheon in a bakery, after which he
returned to a new string of cases.
To-day " the rush," as the clerks called it, was greater
than usual. The attendants were nervous and irritable,
answered sharply and saucily, until Sommers felt that
the place was intolerable. All this office practice got on
his nerves. It was too " intensive." He could not keep
his head and enter thoroughly into the complications of
a dozen cases, when they were shoved at him pell-mell.
He realized that he was falling into a routine, was giving
conventional directions, relying upon the printed pre-
scriptions and mechanical devices. All these devices were
ingenious, — they would do no harm, — and they might
do good, ought to do good, — if the cursed human system
would only come up to the standard.
At last he seized his coat and hat, and escaped. The
noiseless cage dropped down, down, past numerous suites
of doctors' offices similar to Lindsay's, with their ground-
glass windows emblazoned by dozens of names. This
126 THE WEB OF LIFE
building was a kind of modern Chicago Lourdes. All
but two or three of the suites were rented to some form
of the medical fraternity. Down, down: here a drug-
gist's clerk hailing the descending car ; there an upward
car stopping to deliver its load of human freight bound
for the rooms of another great specialist, — Thornton, the
skin doctor. At last he reached the ground floor and the
gusty street. Across the way stood a line of carriages
waiting for women who were shopping at the huge dry-
goods emporium, and through the barbaric displays of
the great windows Sbmmers could see the clerks moving
hither and thither behind the counters. It did not differ
materially from his emporium : it was less select, larger,
but not more profitable, considering the amount of capital
employed, than his shop. Marshall Field decked out
the body ; Lindsay, Thornton, and Co. repaired the body
as best they could. It was all one trade.
On State Street the sandwich men were sauntering
dejectedly through the crowd of shoppers : "Professor
Herman Sorter, Chiropodist." " Go to Manassas for Spec-
tacles " ; — it was the same thing. Across the street, on
the less reputable western side, flared the celluloid
signs of the quacks : " The parlors qf famous old Dr.
Green." " TJie original and only Dr. Potter. Visit Dr.
Potter. JVb cure, no charge. Examination free." The
same business ! Lindsay would advertise as " old Dr.
Lindsay," if it paid to advertise, — paid socially and
commercially. Dr. Lindsay's offices probably " took in "
more in a month than "old Dr., Green" made in a year,
without the expense of advertising. Lindsay would lose
THE WEB OP LIFE 127
much more by adopting the methods of quackery than
he could ever make : he would lose hospital connections,
standing in the professional journals, and social prestige.
Lindsay was quite shrewd in sticking to the conventions
of the profession.
When Sommers reached his rooms that evening, he
found Mrs. Ducharme waiting for him. She held in her
hand his card.
" I thought you'd give me the go-by," she exclaimed,
as he entered. " Your kind is smooth enough, but they
don't want to be bothered. But I came all the same —
on the chance."
" What have you been doing ? " the doctor inquired,
without noticing her surliness. " Walking about in the
streets all day 1 and making your inflammation worse ? "
"Well, you see I must find him, and I don't know
where to look for him."
"Well, you won't find your husband walking about the
streets, especially if he's gone off with another woman;
but you will get blind and have to go to the hospital ! "
"Well, I'll kill her first."
"You will do nothing of the sort," said the doctor,
wearily. "You'll make a fuss, and your husband will
hit you again, and go away."
"He was all right, as nice a man as you could find
before she came to Peory. You see she is married to
another man, a baker, and they lived in Decatur. Du-
charme — he's a Frenchman — knew her in Decatur
where he worked in a restaurant, and he came to Peory
THE WEB OF LIFE 129
to get rid of her. And lie got a job and was real steady
and quiet. Then we got married, and Ducharme was as
nice a man as you ever knew. But we wasn't married
a week — we had a kafe together — before she got Avind
o' his being married and come to town. He told me she
was trying to get him to go away, and he said how he
didn't want to ; but she had influence with him and was
worrying around. "Well, the third day he sent me a
note by a little boy. ' Caroline,' it said, ' you'se a good
woman and an honest woman and we could get on first
rate together ; but, Caroline, I don't love you when she
is about. She calls me, and I go.' "
"Well, that's all there is to it, isn't it?" Sommers
asked, half amused. "You can't keep him away from
the other woman. Now you are a sensible, capable
woman. Just give him up and find a place to work."
Mrs. Ducharme shook her head sorrowfully.
" That won't do. I just think and think, and I can't
work. He was such a nice man, so gentlemanlike and
quiet, so long as she stayed away. But I didn't tell
you: I found 'em in Peory in a place not fit for hogs
to live in, and I watched my chance and gave it to the
woman. But Ducharme came in and he pushed me out,
and I fell, and guess I cracked my head. That's when
my eye began to hurt. The kafe business ran out, and I
followed them to Chicago. And here I been for three
months, doing most anything, housework generally. But
I can't keep a place. Just so often I have to up and out
on the road and try to find him. I'll brain that woman
130 THE "WEB OE LIFE
She uttered this last assertion tranquilly.
" She don't amount to much, — a measly, sandy -haired,
cheap thing. I come of respectable folks, who had a farm
outer Gales City, and never worked out 'fore this hap-
pened. But now I can't settle down to nothin'; it's
always that Frenchman before my eyes, and her."
" Well, and after you have found her and disposed of
her ? " asked Sommers.
" Oh, Ducharme will be all right then ! He'll follow
me like a lamb. He doesn't want to mess around with
such. But she's got some power over him."
' Simply he wants to live with her and not with you."
The woman nodded her head sadly.
"I guess that's about it; but you see if she weren't
around, he wouldn't know that he didn't love me."
Mrs. Ducharme wiped away her tears, and looked at
the doctor in hopes that he might suggest some plan by
which she could accomplish her end. To him she was
but another case of a badly working mechanism. Either
from the blow on her head or from hereditary influences
she had a predisposition to a fixed idea. That tendency
had cultivated this aberration about the woman her hus-
band preferred to her. Should she happen on this woman
in her wanderings about Chicago, there would be one of
those blind newspaper tragedies, — a trial, and a term of
years in prison. As he meditated on this an idea seized
the doctor ; there was a way to distract her.
" The best thing for you to do," he said severely, " is
to go to work."
" Can't get no place," she replied despondently. " Have
THE WEB OF LIFE 131
no references and can't keep a place. See a feller going
up the street that looks like Ducharme, and I must go
"I have a place in mind where you ■won't be likely
to see many men that look like Ducharme ! "
He explained 'to her the situation of the Ninety -first
Street cottage, and what Mrs. Preston needed.
" You take this note there to-morrow morning, and tell
her that you are willing to work for a home. Then I'll
attend to the wages. If you do what I want, — keep
that fellow well locked up and relieve Mrs. Preston of
care, — I'll give you good wages. Not a word to her,
mind, about that. And when you want to hunt Du-
charme, just notify Mrs. Preston and go ahead. Only
see that you hunt him in the daytime. Don't leave her
alone nights. Now, let's see your eye."
The woman took the brief note which he scribbled
after examining her, and said dejectedly :
" She won't want me long — no one does, least of all
" Guess I better go straight down," she remarked
more hopefully as she left.
He should have taken the woman to the cottage, he
reflected after she had gone, instead of sending her in
this brusque manner. He had not seen Mrs. Preston
since his return, and he did not know what had hap-
pened to her in the meantime. To-morrow he would find
time to ride down there and see how things were going
with the sick man.
132 THE WEB OF LIFE
There was much, mail lying on his table. Nothing
had been forwarded by Dresser, in accordance with the
directions he had telegraphed him. And he had seen
nothing of Dresser yesterday or to-day. The rooms
looked as if the man had been gone some time. Dresser
owed him money, — more than he could spare conven-
iently, — but that troubled him less than the thought of
Dresser's folly. It was likely that he had thrown up
his position — he had chafed against it from the first —
and had taken to the precarious career of professional
agitator. Dresser had been speaking at meetings in
Pullman, with apparent success, and his mind had been
full of "the industrial war," as he called it. Sommers
recalled that the man had been allowed to leave Exonia
College, where he had taught for a year on his return
from Germany, because (as he put it) " he held doctrines
subversive of the holy state of wealth and a high tariff."
That he was of the stuff that martyrs of speech are made,
Sommers knew well enough, and such men return to
their haven sooner or later.
Sommers sorted his letters listlessly. The Ducharme
affair troubled him. He could see that a split with Lind-
say was coming; but it must not be brought about by any
act of professional discourtesy on his part. Although he
was the most efficient surgeon Lindsay had, it would not
take much to bring about his discharge. Probably the
suggestion about Porter was merely a polite means of
getting him out of the office. Lindsay had said some
pointed things about "the critical attitude." The
" critical attitude " to Lindsay's kind was the last crime.
THE WEB OF LIFE 133
Ordinarily he would not have cared. The sacrifice of
the three thousand dollars which Lindsay paid him
would have its own consolation. He could get back
his freedom. But the matter was not so simple as it
had been. It was mixed now with another affair : if he
should leave Lindsay, especially after any disagreement
with the popular specialist, he would put himself farther
from Miss Hitchcock than ever. As it was, he was quite
penniless enough ; but thrown on his own resources — he
remembered the heavy, sad young man at the Carsons',
and Miss Hitchcock's remark about him.
Yet this reflection that in some way it was compli-
cated, that he could not act impulsively and naturally,
angered him. He was shrewd enough to know that
Lindsay's patronage was due, not to the fact that he was
the cleverest surgeon he had, but to the fact that, well —
the daughter of Alexander Hitchcock thought kindly of
him. These rich and successful ! They formed a kind of
secret society, pledged to advance any member, to keep
the others out by indifference. When the others man-
aged to get in, for any reason, they lent them aid, to the
exclusion of those left outside. So long as it looked as
if he were to have a berth in their cabin, they would be
amiable, but not otherwise.
Among the letters on the desk was one from Miss
Hitchcock, asking him to spend the coming Saturday and
Sunday at Lake Forest. There was to be a small house
party, and the new club was to be open. Sommers pre-
pared to answer it at once — to regret. He had promised
himself to see Mrs. Preston instead. In writing the let-
134 THE WEB OF LIFE
ter it seemed to him that he was taking a position, was
definitely deciding something, and at the close he tore it
in two and took a fresh sheet. Now was the time, if
he cared for the girl, to come nearer to her. He had
told himself all the way back from New York that he
did care — too much. She was not like the rest. He
laughed, at himself. A few years hence she would be
like the rest and, what is more, he should not find her so
absorbing now, if she were not like the rest, essentially.
He wrote a conventional note of acceptance, and went
out to mail it. Possibly all these people were right in
reading the world, and the aim of life was to show one's
power to get on. He was worried over that elementary
aspect of things rather late in life.
These days there were many people on the streets, but
few were busy; The large department stores were empty ;
at the doors stood idle floor-walkers and clerks. It was
too warm for the rich to buy, and the poor had no money.
The poor had come lean and hungry out of the terrible
winter that followed the World's Fair. In that beautiful
enterprise the prodigal city had put forth her utmost
strength, and, having shown the world the supreme flower
of her energy, had collapsed. There was gloom, not only
in La Salle Street where people failed, but throughout the
city, where the engine of play had exhausted the forces
of all. The city's huge garment was too large for it;
miles of empty stores, hotels, flat-buildings, showed its
shrunken state. Tens of thousands of human beings,
lured to the festive city by abnormal wages, had been left
stranded, without food or a right to shelter in its tenant-
As the spring months moved on in unseasonable, torrid
heat, all the sores of the social system swelled and began
to break. The bleak winter had seen mute starvation
and misery, and the blasts of summer had brought no
revival of industry. Capital was sullen, and labor
violent. There were meetings and counter-meetings ;
agitators, panaceas, university lecturers, sociologizing
136 THE WEB OF LIFE
preachers, philanthropists, politicians — discontent and
discord. The laborer starved, and the employer sulked.
" The extravagant poor are unwilling to let the thrifty
reap the rewards of their savings and abstinence," lec-
tured the Political Economist of the standard school.
"The law of wages and capital is immutable. More
science is needed."
"The rich are vultures and sharks," shrieked the
" And will ye let your brother starve ? " exhorted the
"For it is as clear as the nose on your face that
corporations corrupt legislatures, and buy judges, and
oppress the poor," insinuated the Socialist.
"It's that wretched free trade," howled the hungry
Politician, "and Cleveland and all his evil deeds. See
what we will do for you."
" Yes, it's free trade," bawled one newspaper.
" It's nefarious England," snarled another.
" It's the greed of Wall Street, the crime against silver,
the burden of the mortgage," vociferated a third.
" It's ' hard times,' " the meek sighed, and furbished
up last year's clothes, and cut the butcher's bill.
"Yes, it's 'hard times,' a time of psychological depres-
sion and distrust," softly said the rich man. " A good time
to invest my savings profitably. Eeal estate is low;
bonds and mortgages are as cheap as dirt. Some day
people will be cheerful once more, and these good things
will multiply and yield fourfold. Yea, I will not bury
my talent in a napkin."
THE WEB OF LIFE 137
Thus the body social threw out much smoke, but no
vital heat; here and there, the red glare of violence
burst up through the dust of words and the insufferable
cant of the world.
The first sore to break, ironically enough, was in the
"model industrial town" of Pullman. That dispute
over the question of a living wage grew bitterer day by
day. Well-to-do people praised the directors for their
firm resolve to keep the company's enormous surplus
quite intact. The men said the officers of the company
lied : it was an affair of complicated bookkeeping. The
brutal fact of it was that the company rested within its
legal rights. The unreasonable people were dissatisfied
with an eighth of a loaf, while their employers were
content with a half. Then there was trouble among the
mines, and the state troops were called out. Sores multi-
plied ; men talked ; but capital could not be coerced.
But while politicians squabbled and capitalists sulked
and economists talked, a strong tide of fellowship in mis-
ery was rising from west to east. Unconsciously, far
beneath the surface, the current was moving, — a current
of common feeling, of solidarity among those who work
by day for their daily bread. The country was growing
richer, but they were poorer. There began to be talk of
Debs, the leader of a great labor machine. The A. B. U.
had fought one greedy corporation with success, and
intimidated another. Sometime in June this Debs and
his lieutenant, Howard, came to Chicago. The newspa-
pers had little paragraphs of meagre information about
the A. B. 17. convention. One day there was a meeting
138 THE WEB OF LIFE
in which a committee of the Pullman strikers set forth
their case. At the close of that meeting the great
boycott had. been declared. "Mere bluff," said the
newspapers. But the managers of the railroads "got
together." Some of them had already cut the wage
lists on their roads. They did not feel sure that it
was all "bluff."
It was the first day of the A. R. U. boycott. Som-
mers left the Athenian Building at noon, for Dr. Lind-
say's clients carried their infirmities out of town in hot
weather. He took his way across the city toward the
station of the Northwestern Railroad, wondering whether
Debs's threats had been carried out, and if consequently he
should be compelled to remain in town over Sunday. On
the street corners and in front of the newspaper offices
little knots of men, wearing bits of white ribbon in their
buttonholes, were idling. They were quiet, curious,
dully waiting to see what this preposterous stroke might
mean for them. In the heavy noonday air of the
streets they moved lethargically, drifting westward
to the hall where the A. E. U. committees were in ses-
sion. Oblivious of his engagements, Sommers followed
them, hearing the burden of their talk, feeling their
aimless discontent, their bitterness at the grind of cir-
cumstances. This prodigal country of theirs had been
exploited, — shamefully, rapaciously, swinishly, — and
now that the first sign3 of exhaustion were showing them-
selves, the people's eyes were opening to the story of
greed. Democracy! Say, rather, Plutocracy, the most
THE WEB OF LIFE 139
unblushing the world had ever seen, — the aristocracy
THOSE WHO HAVE.
Thus meditating, he jostled against a group of men
who were coming from a saloon. All but one wore the
typical black clothes and derby hats of the workman's
best attire; one had on a loose-fitting, English tweed
suit. In this latter person Sommers was scarcely sur-
prised to recognize Dresser. The big shoulders of the
blond-haired fellow towered above the others; he was
talking excitedly, and they were listening. When they
started to cross the street, Sommers touched Dresser.
" What are you doing here ? " he demanded abruptly.
"What are you doing? You had better get out of
town along with your rich friends." He motioned sneer-
ingly at the bag in Sommers's hand.
" I fancied you might be up to something of this kind,"
Sommers went on, unheeding his sneer.
"I had enough of that job of faking up text-books and
jollying schoolteachers. So I chucked it."
" Why did you chuck me, too ? "
" I thought you might be sick of having me hang
about, and especially now that I am in with the other
"That's rot," Sommers laughed. "However, you
needn't feel it necessary to apologize. What are you
doing with ' the other crowd ' ? "
" I'm secretary of the central committee," Dresser
replied, with some importance.
" Oh, that's it ! " Sommers exclaimed.
" It's better than being a boot-licker to the rich."
140 THE "WEB OF LIFE
'^Like the doctors ? Well, we won't quarrel. I sup.
pose you mean to give ' us ' a hard time of it ? Come in
when it is all settled, and we will talk it over. Meantime
you've got enough mischief on your hands to last you
for some months."
"I don't blame you," Dresser said benignantly, "for
your position. Perhaps if I had had the opportunities — "
"That's just it. Your crowd are all alike, at least
the leaders; they are hungry for the fleshpots. If
they had the opportunities, we should be served as they
are now. That's the chief trouble, — nobody really cares
to make the sacrifices. And that is why this row will be
ended on the old terms : the rich will buy out the leaders.
Better times will come, and we shall all settle down to
the same old game of grab on the same old basis. But you"
Sommers turned on the sauntering blue-eyed fellow, "peo
pie like you are the real curse."
" Because you are insincere. All you want is the pie.
You make me feel that the privileged classes are right
in getting what they can out of fools and — knaves."
" That's about enough. I suppose you are put out
about the money — "
"Don't be an ass, Dresser. I don't need the hundred.
And I don't want a quarrel. I think you are playing
with dynamite, because you can't get the plunder others
have got. Look out when the dynamite comes down."
"It makes no difference to me," Dresser protested
" No ! That's why you are dangerous. Well, good-by.
THE WEB OP LIFE 141
Get your friends to leave the Northwestern open a day
or two longer."
" There won't he a train running on the Northwestern
to-morrow. I've seen the orders."
"Well, I shall foot it home, then."
They shook hands, and Dresser hurried on after his
friends. Sommers retraced his steps toward the station.
Dresser's vulgar and silly phrase, "boot-licker to the
rich," turned up oddly in his memory. It annoyed him.
Every man who sought to change his place, to get out of
the ranks, was in a way a " boot-licker to the rich." He
recalled that he was on his way to the rich now, with a
subconscious purpose in his mind of joining them if he
could. Miss Hitchcock's wealth would not be enormous,
and it would be easy enough to show that he was not
"boot-licker to the rich." But it was hard to escape
caste prejudices, to live with those who prize ease and yet
keep one's own ideals and opinions. If this woman had
the courage to leave her people, to open a new life with
him elsewhere — he smiled at the picture of Miss Hitch-
cock conjured up by the idea.
The streets were filthy as always, and the sultry west
wind was sweeping the filth down the street canons.
Here in the district of wholesale business houses a kind
of midsummer gloom reigned. Many stores were vacant,
their broad windows plastered with play-bills. Even
in the warehouses along the river a strange stillness
prevailed. "Nothing was doing," in the idiom of the
street. Along the platforms of the railroad company's
train house, however, a large crowd of idlers had assem-
142 THE WEB OP LIFE
bled. They were watching to see whether the trainmen
would, make up the Overland Limited. Debs had said
that this company would not move its through trains
if it persisted in using the tabooed Pullmans. Stout
chains had been attached to the sleepers to prevent any
daring attempt to cut out the cars at the last moment.
A number of officials from the general offices were hurry-
ing to and fro apprehensively. There was some delay,
but finally the heavy train began to move. It wound
slowly out of the shed, in a sullen silence of the onlookers.
In the yards it halted. There was a derisive cry, but in
a few moments it started again and disappeared.
" I guess it's all bluff," a smartly dressed young man
remarked to Sommers. "There's the general manager
getting into the Lake Forest two-ten, and Smith of the
C, B. and Q., and Rollins of the Santa Fe, are with him.
The general managers have been in session most of last
night and this morning. They're going to fight it out, if
it costs a hundred millions."
The young man's views seemed to be the popular ones
in the Lake Forest train. It was crowded with young
business men, bound out of town for their holiday. Not
a few were going to the country club at Lake Forest.
In this time of business stagnation they were cultivating
the new game of golf. There was a general air of blithe
relief when the train pulled out of the yards, and the
dirty, sultry, restless city was left behind.
"Blamed fools to strike now," remarked a fat, per-
spiring stockbroker. "Roads aren't earning anything,
THE WEB OF LIFE 143
The conductor who -was taking the tickets smiled and
kept his own counsel.
" Good time to buy rails, all the same," his companion
"I guess this'll yank old Pullman back to town,"
another remarked, glancing up from his paper.
"You don't know him. It won't bother him. He's
keeping cool somewhere in the St. Lawrence. It's up to
the railroads now."
" Let's see your clubs. Did you get 'em straight from
Scotland ? That's a pretty iron."
Older men were chatting confidentially and shaking
their heads. But the atmosphere was not gloomy; an
air of easy, assured optimism prevailed. "I guess it
will all come out right, somehow, and the men will be
glad to get back to work. ... If Cleveland and his free
trade were in hell ! . . . " And the train sped on through
the northern suburbs, coming every now and then within
eyeshot of the sparkling lake. The holiday feeling
gained as the train got farther away from the smoke and
heat of the city. The young men belonged to the "nicer "
people, who knew each other in a friendly, well-bred way.
It was a comfortable, social kind of picnic of the better
Most of the younger men, and Sommers with them,
got into the omnibus waiting at the Lake Forest
station, and proceeded at once to the club. There, in the
sprawling, freshly painted club-house, set down on a sun-
baked, treeless slope, people were already gathered. A
polo match was in progress and also a golf tournament.
144 THE WEB OP LIFE
The verandas were filled with ladies. One part of the
verandas had been screened off, and there, in a kind of
outdoor cafe, people were lunching or sipping cool drinks.
At one of the tables Sommers found Miss Hitchcock and
Mrs. Porter, surrounded by a group of young men and
women who were talking and laughing excitedly.
"Ah! you couldn't get the twelve-thirty," Miss
Hitchcock exclaimed, as Sommers edged to her. "We
waited luncheon for you until the train came; but you
are in time for the polo. Caspar is playing — and
Parker," she added in a lower tone. "Let us go down
there and watch them."
Miss Hitchcock detached herself skilfully from the
buzzing circle on the veranda, and the two stepped out
on the sprjngy turf. The undulating prairie was covered
with a golden haze. Half a mile west a thin line of trees
pencilled the horizon. The golf course lay up and down
the gentle turfy swells between the club-house and the
wind-break of trees. The polo grounds were off to the
left, in a little hollow beside a copse of oak. There were
not many trees over the sixty or more acres, and the roads
on either side of the club grounds were marked by dense
clouds of dust. Yet it was gay — open to the June
heavens, with a sense of limitless breathing space. And
it was also very decorous, well-bred, and conventional.
As they strolled leisurely over the lawns in front of the
club-house, Miss Hitchcock stopped frequently to speak
to some group of spectators, or to greet cheerfully a golfer
as he started for the first tee. She seemed very animated
and happy; the decorative scene fitted her admirably.
THE WEB OF LIFE 145
Dr. Lindsay came up the slope, laboring toward the
ninth hole with prodigious welter.
"That's the way he keeps young," Miss Hitchcock
commented approvingly. " He's one of the best golfers
in the club. I like to see the older men showing that
they hare powers of enjoyment left."
" I guess there's no doubt about Lindsay's powers of
enjoyment," Sommers retorted idly.
They passed Mrs. Carson, " ingeniously and correctly
associated," as Miss Hitchcock commented, and little
Laura Lindsay flirting with young Polot.
Miss Hitchcock quickened her pace, for the polo had
already begun. They saw Caspar Porter's little pony
fidgeting under its heavy burden. It became unmanage-
able and careered wildly up and down the field, well out of
range of the players. Indeed, most of the ponies seemed
inclined to keep their shins out of the melee. Sommers
laughed rather ill-naturedly, and Miss Hitchcock frowned.
She disliked slovenly playing, and shoddy methods even
in polo. When the umpire called time, Parker Hitchcock
rode up to where they were standing and shook hands
wibh the young doctor. As he trotted off, his sister said
" You have done so much for him ; we can never thank
" I don't believe I have done so very much," Sommers
replied. He did not like to have her refer to his mission
in New York, or to make, woman-wise, a sentimental
story out of a nasty little scrape.
" I think polo will help him ; papa agrees with me now."
146 THE WEB OF LIEE
" Indeed ! " Sommers smiled.
"What is it that you don't say?" the girl flashed at
" Merely, that this is a nice green paddock for a young
man to be turned out in — when he has barked his shins.
Do you know what happens to the ordinary young man
who is — a bit wild ? "
"Well, let us not go into it. I am afraid of you
" Yes, I am in one of my crude moods to-day, I con-
fess. I had no business to come."
"Not at all-. This is just the place for you. Mce
people, nice day, nice sporty feeling in the air. You
need relaxation badly."
" I don't think I shall get it exactly here."
The girl looked out over the shaven turf, dotted with
the white figures of the golfers, at the careering ponies
which had begun the new round in the match, up the slope
where the club verandas were gay with familiar figures, —
and it all seemed very good. The man at her side could
see all that and more beyond. He had come within the
hour from the din of the city, where the wealth that
flowered here was made. And there was a primitive,
eternal, unanswerable question harassing his soul.
" Shall we walk over to the lake," the girl suggested
gently, as if anxious to humor some incomprehensible
child. " There is a lovely ravine we can explore, all cool
and shady, and this sun is growing oppressive."
Sommers accepted gratefully the concession she made
to his unsocial mood. The ravine path revealed unex-
pected wildness and freshness. The peace of twilight
had already descended there. Miss Hitchcock strolled
on, apparently forgetful of fatigue, of the distance they
were putting between them and the club-house. Sommers
respected the charm of the occasion, and, content with
evading the chattering crowd, refrained from all strenuous
discussion. This happy, well-bred, contented woman,
full of vitality and interest, soothed all asperities. She
laid him in subtle subjection to her. So they chatted of
the trivial things that must be crossed and explored before
understanding can come. When they neared the lake, the
sun had sunk so far that the beach was one long, dark strip
of shade. The little waves lapped coolly along the break-
waters. They continued their stroll, walking easily on
the hard sand, each unwilling to break the moment of
perfect adjustment. Finally the girl confessed her
fatigue, and sat down beside a breakwater, throwing of£
her hat, and pushing her hair away from her temples. She
148 THE WEB OP LIFE
looked up at the man and smiled. ' You see/ she seemed
to say, £ I can meet you on your own ground, and the
world is very beautiful when one gets away, when one
gets away ! '
" Why did you refuse to go abroad with Uncle Brome ? "
she asked suddenly. She was looking out idly across the
lake, but something in her voice puzzled Sommers.
" I didn't want to go."
" Chicago fascinates you already ! "
"There were more reasons than one," he answered,
after a moment's hesitation, as if he could trust himself
no farther. The girl smiled a bit, quite to herself. Her
throat palpitated a little, and then she turned her head.
" Tell me about the cases. Are they so interesting ? "
" There is one curious case," the young doctor responded
with masculine literalness. " It's hardly a case, but an
affair I have mixed myself up with. Do you remember
the night of the dinner at your house when Lindsay was
there ? The evening before I had been at the Paysons'
dance, and when I returned there was an emergency case
just brought to the hospital. They had telephoned for
me, but had missed me. Well, the fellow was a drunken
brute that had been shot a number of times. His wife
was with him."
Sommers paused, finding now that he had started on
his tale that it was difficult to bring out his point, to
make this girl understand the significance of it, and
the reason why he told it to her. She was attentive,
but he thought she was a trifle bored. Soon he began
again and went over all the steps of the affair.
THE WEB OF LIFE 149
" You see," he concluded, " I was morally certain
that, if the operation succeeded, the fellow would
be worse than useless in this world. Now it's coming
true. Of course I have no responsibility ; I did what
any other doctor should have done, I suppose; and, if
it had been an ordinary hospital case, I don't suppose
that I should have thought twice about it. But you
see that I — this woman has got her load of misery
saddled on her, perhaps for life, and partly through
" I think she did right," the girl responded quickly,
looking at the case from an entirely different side.
" I am not sure of that," Sommers retorted brusquely.
" What kind of a woman is she ? " the girl inquired
with interest, ignoring his last remark.
"I don't think I could make you understand her.
I don't myself now."
" Is she pretty ? "
" I don't know. She makes you see her always."
The girl moved as if the evening wind had touched
her, and put on her hat.
"She's a desperately literal woman, primitive, the
kind you never meet — well, out here. She has a thirst
for happiness, and doesn't get a drop."
" She must be common, or she wouldn't have married
that man," Miss Hitchcock commented in a hard tone.
She rose, and without discussion they took the path that
led along the bluff to the cottages.
"I didn't think so," the doctor answered positively.
" And if you knew her, you wouldn't think so."
150 THE WEB OP LIFE
After a moment he said tentatively, "I wish you
could meet her."
" I should be glad to," Miss Hitchcock replied sweetly,
but without interest.
Sommers realized the instant he had spoken that he
had made a mistake, that his idea was a purely con-
ventional one. The two women could have nothing but
their sex in common, and that common possession was
as likely to be a ground for difference as for agreement.
fit was always useless to bring two people of different
classes together.X Three generations back the families
of these two women were probably on the same level
of society. And, as woman to woman, the schoolteacher,
who travelled the dreary path between the dingy cottage
and the Everglade School, was as full of power and beauty
as this velvety specimen of plutocracy. It was senti-
mental, however, to ignore the present facts. Evidently
Miss Hitchcock had followed the same line of reasoning,
for when she spoke again she referred distantly to Mrs.
"Those people — teachers — have their own clubs and
society. Mrs. Bannerton was a teacher in the schools
before she was married. Do you know Mrs. Bannerton ? "
"I have met Mrs. Bannerton," Sommers answered
He was annoyed at the trivial insertion of Mrs. Ban-
nerton into the conversation. He had failed to make
Mrs. Preston's story appear important, or even interest-
ing, and the girl by his side had shown him delicately
that he was a bore. They walked more rapidly in the
THE WEB OP LIFE 151
gathering twilight. The sun had sunk behind the trees,
and the ravine below their path was gloomy. The mood
of the day had changed, and he was sorry — for every-
thing. It was a petty matter — it was always some petty
thing — that came in between them. He longed to recall
the moment on the beach when she had asked him, with
a flicker of a smile upon her face, why he had decided to
remain in Chicago. But they were strangers to each
other now, — hopelessly strangers, — and the worst of it
was that they both knew it.
There was a large house party at the Hitchcock cottage.
The Porters and the Lindsays, with other guests, were
there for the holidays of the Fourth, and some more
people came in for dinner. The men who had arrived
on the late trains brought more news of the strike:
the Illinois Central was tied up, the Rock Island service
was crippled, and there were reports that the North-
western men were going out en masse on the morrow.
The younger people took the matter gayly, as an oppor-
tune occasion for an extended lark. The older men
discussed the strike from all sides, and looked grave.
Over the cigars the general attitude toward the situa-
tion came out strongly: the strikers were rash fools;
they'd find that out in a few weeks. They could do
a great deal of harm under their dangerous leaders,
but, if need be, the courts, the state, the federal gov-
ernment, would be invoked for aid. Law and order
and private rights must be respected. The men said
these things ponderously, with the conviction that they
152 THE WEB OE LIFE
were reciting a holy creed of eternal right. They were
men of experience, who had never questioned the worth
of the society in which they were privileged to live.
They knew each other, and they knew life, and at the
bottom it was as useless to kick against the laws of soci-
ety as to interfere with the laws of nature. Besides, it
was all very good — a fair enough field for any one.
Sommers was excited by the reports. It made him
restless to be lolling here outside of the storm when
such a momentous affair was moving down the lake
under the leaden pall of the city smoke. He asked ques-
tions eagerly, and finally got into discussion with old
Boardman, one of the counsel for a large railroad.
" Who is that raw youth? " old Boardman asked Porter,
when the younger men joined the ladies on the veranda.
"Some protege of Alec's," Brome Porter replied.
"Son of an old friend — fresh chap."
" I am afraid our young friend is not going to turn out
well," Dr. Lindsay, who had overheard the discussion,
added in a distressed tone. " I have done what I can for
him, but he is very opinionated and green — yes, very
green. Pity — he is a clever fellow, one of the cleverest
yotfng surgeons in the city."
"He talks about what he doesn't know," Boardman
pronounced sententiously. " When he's lived with decent
folks a little longer, he'll get some sense knocked into
his puppy head, maybe."
"Maybe," Brome Porter assented, dismissing this
crude, raw, green, ignorant young man with a con-
THE WEB OP LIFE 153
Outside on the brick terrace the younger people had
gathered in a circle and were discussing the polo match.
Miss Hitchcock's clear, mocking voice could be heard
teasing her cousin Caspar on his performance that after-
noon. The heavy young man, whose florid face was
flushed with the champagne he had taken, made in-
effective attempts to ward off the banter. Parker Hitch-
cock came to his rescue.
" I say, Lou, it's absurd to compare us with the teams
east. We haven't the stable. Who ever heard of play-
ing with two ponies ? "
He appealed to Sommers, who happened to be seated
" Steve Bayliss buys ponies by the carload and takes
his pick. You can't play polo without good ponies, can
you ? "
" I don't know," Sommers answered indifferently.
He was looking at the lights along the shore, and con-
triving some excuse to cut short his visit. It was clear
that he was uncomfortably out of his element in the
chattering circle. He was too dull to add joy to such a
gathering, and he got little joy from it. And he was
feverishly anxious to be doing something, to put his hand
to some plough — to escape the perpetual irritation of
The chatter went on from polo to golf and gossip until
the .group broke up into flirtation couples. As Sommers
was about to stroll off to the beach, Lindsay came out of
the dining room and sat down by him with the amiable
purpose of giving his young colleague some good social
154 THE WEB OF LIFE
doctrine. He talked admiringly of the manner in which
the general managers had taken hold of the strike.
" Most of them are from the ranks, you know," he said,
"fought their way up to the head, just as any one of
those fellows could if he had the ability, and they know
what they're doing."
"There is no one so bitter, so arrogant, so proud as
your son of a peasant who has got the upper hand,"
Sommers commented philosophically.
"The son of a peasant?" Lindsay repeated, bewil-
"Yes, that's what our money-makers are, — from the
soil, from the masses. And when they feel their power,
they use it worse than the most arrogant aristocrats. Of
course the strikers are all wrong, poor fools ! " he has-
tened to add. " But they are not as bad as the others, as
those who home. The men will be licked fast enough, and
licked badly. They always will be. But it is a brutal
game, a brutal game, this business success, — a good
deal worse than war, where you line up in the open at
Sommers spoke nonchalantly, as if his views could not
interest Dr. Lindsay, but were interesting to himself,
" That's pretty fierce ! " Lindsay remarked, with a
laugh. " I guess you haven't seen much of business. If
you had been here during the anarchist riots — "
Sommers involuntarily shrugged his shoulders. The
anarchist was the most terrifying bugaboo in Chicago, .
referred to as a kind of Asiatic plague that might break
THE WEB OP LIFE 155
out at any time. Before Lindsay could get his argument
launched, however, some of the guests drifted out to the
terrace, and the two men separated.
Later in the evening Sommers found Miss Hitchcock
alone, and explained to her that he should have to leave
in the morning, as that would probably be the last chance
to reach Chicago for some days. She did not urge him
to stay, and expressed her regret at his departure in con-
ventional phrases. They were standing by the edge of
the terrace, which ran along the bluff above the lake. A
faint murmur of little waves rose to them from the beach
" It is so heavenly quiet ! " the girl murmured, as if to
reproach his dissatisfied, restless spirit. "So this is
good-bye ? " she added, at length.
Sommers knew that she meant this would be the end
of their intimacy, of anything but the commonplace
service of the world.
"I hope not," he answered regretfully.
" Why is it we differ ? " she asked swiftly. " I am
sorry we should disagree on such really unimportant
"Don't say that," Sommers protested. "You know
that it is just because you are intelligent and big enough
to realize that they are important that — "
" We strike them every time ? " she inquired.
"Laura Lindsay and Caspar would think we were
"I am not so sure they wouldn't be right!" She
laughed nervously, and locked her hands tightly to-
156 THE WEB OP LIFE
gether. He turned away in discomfort, and neither
spoke for a long time. Finally he broke the silence, —
"At any rate, you can see that I am scarcely a fit
guest ! "
" So you are determined to go in this way — back to
your — case ? "
. At the scorn of her last words Sommers threw up his
" Yes, back to my case."
Mrs. Ducharme opened the door of the cottage in
response to Sommers's knock. Attired in a black house
dress, with her dark hair smoothly brushed back from
round, fat features, she was a peaceful figure. Sommers
thought there was some truth in her contention that
" Ducharme ought to get a decent-looking woman, any-
" How is Mr. Preston ? " he asked.
Mrs. Ducharme shook her head mournfully.
" Bad, alius awful bad — and pitiful. Calling for stuff
in a voice fit to break your heart."
" Mind you don't let him get any," the doctor coun-
selled, preparing to go upstairs.
"Better not go up there jest yet," the woman whis-
pered. "He did get away from us yesterdy and had
a terrible time over there." She hitched her shoulders
in the direction of Stoney Island Avenue. "We ain't
found out till he'd been gone 'most two hours, and, my !
such goings on; we had to git two perlicemen." •
" I suppose you were out looking for Ducharme ? " the
doctor asked, in a severe tone.
" It was the last time," the woman pleaded, her eyes
downcast. "Come in here. Miss Preston ain't got
back from school, — she's late to-day."
158 THE "WEB OF LIFE
Sommers walked into the bare sitting room and
sat down, while Mrs. Ducharme leaned against the
door-post, fingering her apron in an embarrassed man-
"I've got cured," she blurted out at last. "My eye
was awful bad, and it's been most a week since you sent
" Did you follow my treatment ? "
"No! I was out one afternoon — after Mrs. Preston
came back from school — and I had walked miles and
miles. Comin' home I passed a buildin' down here
a ways on the avenue where there were picter papers
pasted all over the windows ; the picters were all about
healin' folks, heaps and heaps in great theaters, a nice
white-haired old preacher doin' the healin'. While I
was lookin' at the picters, a door opened and a young
feller came along and helped 'em carry in a cripple in
his chair. He turns to me arter finishin' with the
cripple and says, ' Come in, lady, and be healed in the
blood of the lamb.' In I went, sure enough, and there
was a kind of rough church fitted up with texts printed
in great show-bills, and they was healin' folks. The
little feller was helpin' em up the steps to the platform,
and the old feller was prayin', and at last the young
feller comes to me and says, ' Want ter be healed ? ' and
I just got up, couldn't help it, and walked to the plat-
form, and they prayed over me — you aren't mad, are
you?" she asked suspiciously.
"Mrs. Preston said you'd be very angry with such
THE WEB OF. LIFE 159
nonsense. But at any rate the old fellow — Dr. — Dr.
— Po — "
" Dr. Potz," Sommers suggested.
" That's him. He cured me, and I went back again
and told him about Ducharme. And he says that he's
got a devil, and he will cast it out by prayin'. But he
" How much will it cost to cast out the devil ? " the
" The doctor says he must have ten dollars to loosen
" Well," Sommers drew a bill from his pocket, " there's
ten dollars on account of your wages. Now, don't you
interfere with the doctor's work. You let him manage
the devil his own way, and if you see Ducharme or the
other woman, you run away as hard as you can. If you
don't, you may bring the devil back again."
The woman took the money eagerly.
"You can go right off to find the doctor," Sommers
continued. "I'll stay here until Mrs. Preston returns.
But let me look at your eye, and see whether the doctor
has cast that devil out for good and all."
He examined the eye as well as he could without
appliances. Sure enough, so far as he could detect, the
eye was normal, the peculiar paralysis had disappeared.
" You are quite right,'.' he pronounced at last. " The
doctor has handled this devil very ably. You can tell
Mrs. Preston that I approve of your going to that
" I wonder where Mrs. Preston can be : she's most
160 THE WEB OF LIFE
always here by half-past four, and it's after five. He,"
the woman pointed upstairs to Preston's rooms, "is
sleeping off the effects of the dose Mrs. Preston gave
" The powders ? " the doctor asked.
" Yes, sir. She had to give him two before he would
sleep. Well, I'll be back by supper time. If he calls
you, be careful about the bar on the door."
After Mrs. Ducharme had gone, the doctor examined
every object in the little room. It was all so bare !
Needlessly so, Sommers thought at first, contrasting the
bleak room with the comfortable simplicity of his own
rooms. The strip of coarse thin rug, the open Franklin
stove, the pine kitchen table, the three straight chairs —
it was as if the woman, crushed down from all aspirations,
had defiantly willed to exist with as little of this world's
furniture as might be. On the table were a few school
books, a teacher's manual of drawing, a school mythology,
and at one side two or three other volumes, which Som-
mers took up with more interest. One was a book on
psychology — a large modern work on the subject. A
second was an antiquated popular treatise on "Diseases
of the Mind." Another volume was an even greater
surprise — Balzac's Une Passion dans la Desert, a well-
dirtied copy from the public library. They were fierce
condiments for a lonely mind !
His examination over, he noiselessly stepped into $ie
hall and went upstairs. After some fumbling he un-
bolted the door and tiptoed into the room, where Preston
lay like a log.- The fortnight had changed him markedly.
THE WEB OP LIFE 161
There was no longer any prospect that he would sink
under his disease, as Sommers had half expected. He
had grown stouter, and his flesh had a healthy tint. " It
will take it out of his mind," he muttered to himself,
watching the hanging jaw that fell nervelessly away
from the mouth, disclosing the teeth.
As he watched the man's form, so drearily promising
of physical power, he heard a light footstep at the outer
door, which he had left unbarred. On turning he
caught the look of relief that passed over Mrs. Preston's
face at the sight of the man lying quietly in his bed.
What a state of fear she must live in !
Without a word the two descended, Sommers carefully
barring and bolting the door. When they reached her
room, her manner changed, and she spoke with a note of
elation in her voice :
" I was so afraid that you would not come again after
sending me help."
" I shall come as often and as long as you need me,"
Sommers answered, taking her hand kindly. " He has
had another attack," he continued. " Mrs. Ducharme
told me — I sent her out — and I suppose he's sleeping
off the opiate."
" Yes, it was dreadful, worse than anything yet." She
uttered these words jerkily, walking up and down the
room in excitement. " And I've just left the school-
house. The assistant superintendent was there to see
me. He was kind enough, but he said it couldn't hap-
pen again. There was scandal about it now. And
yesterday I heard a child, one of my pupils, say to
162 THE "WEB OF LIFE
his companion, 'She's the teacher who's got a drunken
husband. ' "
Her voice was dreary, not rebellious.
" I don't know what to do. I cannot move. It would
be worse in any other neighborhood. I thought," she
added in a low voice, " that he would go away, for a time
at least, but his mind is so weak, and he has some trouble
with walking. But he gets stronger, stronger, God,
every day ! I have to see him grow stronger, and I grow
"It is simply preposterous," the doctor protested in
matter-of-fact tones, "to kill yourself, to put yourself in
such a position for a man, who is no longer a man.
For a man you cannot love," he added.
" What would be the use of running away from the
trouble ? He has ruined my life. Alves Preston is a
mere thing that eats and sleeps. She will be that kind
of thing as long as she lives."
" That is romantic rot," the doctor observed coldly.
"No life is ruined in that way. One life has been
wrecked ; but you, you are bigger than that life. You can
recover — bury it away — and love and have children and
find that it is a good thing to live. That is the beauty of
human weakness — we forget ourselves of yesterday."
In answer to his words her face, which he had once
thought too immobile and passive for beauty, flamed with
color, the dark eyes flashing beneath the broad white
'' Am I just caught in a fog ? " she murmured.
" You are living in a way that would make any woman
THE "WEB OF LIFE 163
mad. I might twist myself into as many knots as you
have. I might say that I had caused this disaster ; that
March evening my hand was too true. For I knew then
the man ought to die."
He blurted out his admission roughly.
" I knew you did," she said softly, " and that has made
His voice trembled when he spoke again. " But I live
with facts, not fancies. And the facts are that that ruined
thing should not clog you, ruin you. Get rid of him in
any way you will, — I advise the county asylum. Get
rid of him, and do it quickly before he crazes you."
When he had finished, there was an oppressive stillness
in the room, as if some sentence had been declared. Mrs.
Preston got up and walked to and fro, evidently battling
with herself. She stopped opposite him finally.
" The only thing that would justify that would be to
know that you grasped it all — real happiness in that one
bold stroke. Such conviction can never come."
" Happiness ! " he exclaimed scornfully. " If you
mean a good, comfortable time, yoii won't find any cer-
tainty about that. But you can get freedom to live out
your life — "
" You fail to understand. There is happiness. See, —
She led him to the front window, which was open
toward the peaceful little lawn. On the railroad track
behind the copse of scrub oak an unskilful train crew was
making up a long train of freight cars. Their shouts,
punctuated by the rumbling reverberations from the long
164 THE WEB OF LIFE
train as it alternately buckled up and stretched out, was
the one discord in the soft night. All else was hushed,
even to the giant chimneys in the steel works. One soli-
tary furnace lamped the growing darkness. It was mid-
summer now in these marshy spots,. and a very living
nature breathed and pulsed, even in the puddles between
the house and the avenue.
" You can hear it in the night air," she murmured ;
"the joy that comes rising up from the earth, the joy of
living. Ah! that is why we are made — to have happi-
ness and joy, to rejoice the heart of God, to make God
live, for He must be happiness itself ; and when we are
happy and feel joy in living, He must grow stronger.
And when we are weak and bitter, when the world
haunts us as I felt this afternoon on leaving the superin-
tendent, when men strike and starve, and others are
hard and grasping — then He must shrink and grow
small and suffer. There is happiness," she ended,
breathing her belief as a prayer into the solitude and
" What will you do to get it? " Sommers asked, shortly.
"Do to get it?" She drew back from the window,
her figure tense. " When it comes within my grasp, I
will do everything, everything, and nothing shall hinder
" Meantime ? " the doctor questioned significantly.
" Don't ask me ! " She sank into a chair and covered
her eyes with her hand. And neither spoke until the
sound of footsteps was heard on the walk.
"There is Mrs. Ducharme coming home from the
THE WEB OF LIFE 165
charmer of devils. It is time for me to go," Sommers
The room was so dark that he could not see her face,
as he extended his hand ; but he could feel the repressed
breathing, the passionate air about her person.
" Remember," he said slowly, " whenever you need me
— want me for anything — send a message, and I shall
come at once. We will settle this thing together."
There was a sharp pressure on his hand, her thin
fingers drawing him toward her involuntarily. Then
his hand dropped, and he groped his way to ihe door.
The cars were still whirring up and down Stoney
Island Avenue when Sommers left the cottage, but he
did not think to stop one. Instead, he walked on heed-
lessly, mechanically, toward the city. Frequently he
stumbled and with difficulty saved himself from falling
over the dislocated planks of the wooden walk. The
June night was brilliant above with countless points of
light. A gentle wind drew in shore from the lake, stir-
ring the tall rushes in the adjacent swamps. Occasion-
ally a bicyclist sped by, the light from his lantern
wagging like a crazy firefly. The night was strangely
still; the clamorous railroads were asleep. Far away
to the south a solitary engine snorted at intervals, indi-
cating the effort of some untrained hand to move the
perishing freight. Chicago was a helpless giant to-night.
When he came to the region of saloons, which were
crowded with strikers, he turned away from the noise
and the stench of bad beer, and struck into a grass-grown
street in the direction of the lake. There he walked on,
unmindful of time or destination, in the marvellous state
of conscious dream.
The little space of one day separated him from that
final meeting with Miss Hitchcock in the pleasant cot-
tage above the lake. He had gone there, drawn by her,
THE WEB OF LIFE 167
and he had gone away repelled, at strife with himself,
with her. Nothing had happened since, and yet every-
thing. As he had said to another woman, Mrs. Preston,
was a woman yon remembered. And he had said that
of a woman very different from the one he had seen
and spoken with this night. That stricken, depressed
creature of the night of the operation had faded away,
and in her place was this passionate, large-hearted
woman, who had spoken to him bravely as an equal in
the dark room of the forbidding cottage. She had
thrown a spell into his life this night, and his steps
were wandering on, purposeless, unconscious, with an
exhilaration akin to some subtle opiate.
Her life was set in noisome places. Yet the poor
mass of clay in the upper room that had burdened her
so grievously — what was it, after all, but one of the
ephemeral unrealities of life to be brushed aside ? De-
cay, defeat, falling and groaning ; disease, blind doctor-
ing of disease; hunger and sorrow and sordid misery;
the grime of living here in Chicago in the sharp dis-
cords of this nineteenth century; the brutal rich, the
brutalized poor ; the stupid good, the pedantic, the fool-
ish, — all, all that made the waking world of his experi-
ence ! It was like the smoke wreath above the lamping
torch of the blast-furnace. It was the screen upon
which glowed the rosy colors of the essential fire.
The fire, — that was the one great thing, — the fire was
As he walked on in the tumultuous sensations of
dream, the discords of living were swept away: the
168 THE WEB OP LIFE
beautiful flesh that rotted ; the noble human figures that
it was well to have covered ; the shame of woman's form,
of man's corrupted carcass ; the world that has, with its
beauty and charm, side by side with the world that has
not, with its grime and its nastiness. In the dream that
he dreamed the difference between the woman who had
adornment and the other sad one back there in the cot-
tage was as nothing. The irritating paradox of life was
reconciled : there was great reasonableness in things, and
he had found it.
Men fought and gambled to-day in the factories,
the shops, the railroads, as they fought in the dark
ages, for the same ends — for sensual pleasures, gross
love of power, barbaric show. They would fight on,
glorifying their petty deeds of personal gain; but not
always. The mystery of human defeat in the midst of
success would be borne in upon them. The barbarians
of trade would give way, as had the barbarians of feudal
war. This heaving, moaning city, blessedly quiet to-
night, would learn its lesson of futility. His eyes that
had been long searching the dark were opened now, and
he could bide his few years of life in peace. He had
labored too long in the charnel house.
He forgave life for its disgusting manifestations, for
the triviality of Lindsay, for the fleshy Porter with his
finger in the stock market, for the ambitious Carson
who would better have rested in his father's dugout in
Iowa. They were a part of the travailing world,
without which it could not fulfil its appointed destiny.
It was childish to dislike them ; with this God-given
THE WEB OP LIFE 169
peace and understanding one could never be impatient,
nor foam at the mouth. He could enter into himself
and remove them from him, from her. Some day they
two would quietly leave it all, depart to a place where as
man and woman they could live life simply, sweetly.
Yes, they had already departed, had faded away from
the strife, and he was no longer in doubt about anything.
He had ceased to think, and for the first moment in his
life he was content to feel.
All emotion over life must come to be transmuted to
this — an elemental state of conviction transforming the
tawdry acts of life. There was but this one everlasting
emotion which equalized everything, in which all mani-
festations of life had their proper place and proportion,
according to which man could work in joy. She and
he were accidents of the story. They might go out into
darkness to-night; there was eternal time and multitudes
of others to take their place, to feel the ancient, purify-
ing fire — to love and have peace.
The Fourth of July had never before been kept in
the like manner in Chicago. There was a row or two
at Grand Crossing between the strikers and the railroad
officials, several derailed cars and spiked switches, a
row at Blue Island, and a bonfire in the stock yards.
People were not travelling on this holiday, and the main
streets were strangely silent and dull.
Sommers had found no one at the office in the Athe-
nian Building. Lindsay had not been in sinee the strike
began. Probably he would not appear until the dis-
orderly city had settled down. Sommers had taken the
clinic yesterday ; to-day there was nothing for him to do
except exercise his horse by a long ride in the blazing
sunshine. Before he left the office a telegram came
from Lake Porest, announcing that a postponed meeting
of the board of managers of the summer sanitarium
for poor babies would be put off indefinitely. Sommers
knew what that meant — no appropriation for carry-
ing on the work. At the last meeting the board of
managers, who were women for the most part, had
disagreed about the advisability of undertaking the
work this season, when every one was feeling poor.
Some women had been especially violent against support-
ing the charity in those districts where the strikers lived.
THE WEB OP LIFE 171
Miss Hitchcock, who was the secretary, and Somraers had
got the heated members of the board to suppress their
prejudices for the present, and vote a temporary subsidy.
The telegram meant that under the present circumstances
it would be hopeless to try to extract money from the
usual sources. The sanitarium and creche would have
to close within a week, and Skimmers was left to arrange
matters. After he had taken the necessary measures, he
started on his ride. He had in mind to Tide out of the
city along the lines of railroad to the southwest to see
whether the newspaper reports of the strike were justi-
fied or, as he suspected, grossly exaggerated. The news-
papers, at first inclined to side with the Pullman men in
their demand for arbitration, had suddenly turned about
and were denouncing the strikers as anarchists. They
were spreading broadcast throughout the country violent
reports of incendiarism and riot.
Outside of the stations and the adjacent yards Som-
niers found little to see. A great stagnation had settled
over the city this hot July day. Somewhat disappointed
in his search for excitement he came back at nightfall
to the cool stretches of the South Parks. ' He tamed
into the desolate Midway, where the unsightly wheel
hung an inert, abortive mass in the violet dusk. His
way home lay in the other direction, and his horse
trotted languidly. He had determined to turn back,
when suddenly a tongue of flame shot up a mile away
toward the lake. This first long tongue ran out, fol-
lowed by another and another, and yet others that raced
north and south and up into the night.
172 THE WEB OE LIFE
" The Fair Buildings ! " a man on a bicycle shouted,
and sped away.
The broad flames now illuminated the dome of the
Administration Building and the facades of the Court of
Honor. Sommers spurred his horse, while the loungers
suddenly, with one cry, poured from the park along the
rough paths of the Midway, streaming out across the
prairie toward the fire. He plunged into the cool gulf
under the Illinois Central tracks, then out into a glare of
full day, before the wild, licking flames. The Court of
Honor with its empty lagoon and broken bridges was
more beautiful in the savage glow of the ravaging fire
than ever on the gala nights of the exposition. The fan-
tastic fury of the scene fascinated man and beast. The
streaming lines of people raced on, and the horse snorted
and plunged into the mass. Now the crackling as of
paper burning in a brisk wind could be heard. There
was a shout from the crowd. The flames had gained the
Peristyle — that noble fantasy plucked from another,
distant life and planted here above the barbaric glow of
the lake in the lustrous atmosphere of Chicago. The
horseman holding his restive steeds drove in a sea of
flame. Through the empty arches the dark waters of
the lake caught the reflection and sombrely relighted the
Sommers almost knocked over a woman who was gaz-
ing in speechless absorption at the panorama of flame.
In the light of the fire he could see that it was Mrs.
Preston. She seemed entranced, fascinated like an ani-
mal by the savagery of the fierce fire.
THE WEB OP LIFE 173
" It is grand, beautiful," she murmured to Sommers,
who had dismounted. Her large frame trembled with
suppressed excitement, and her face glowed.
" Beauty eating beauty," Sommers replied sadly.
" They ought to go, just like this — shoot up into the
sky in flame and die, expire in the last beauty."
The excitement of the scene loosened her tongue, gave
her whole being expression, and made her words thrill.
She took off her hat as if to free her body, even by that
little, while she drank in the scene of leaping flames, the
crescendo of light, the pathetic, noble emptiness between
the fire-eaten pillars of the Peristyle.
" That is better than the Pair itself. It is fiercer — not
"Nature has taken a hand," Sommers said grimly,
" and knocks about man's toys. Look ! "
He pointed to the fairy like brightness of the island in
the lagoon. The green leafage of the shrubbery was
suffused in tender light ; the waters reflected calmly all
their drapery, but none of the savage desolation of the
pyre in the Court of Honor. Beyond where the gracious
pile of the Art Building stretched across the horizon the
light clouds of smoke floated, a gray wreath in the night.
The seething mass of flame began to abate, to lessen
almost imperceptibly, exhausting itself slowly with deep
groans like the dying of a master passion.
Sommers suggested that they should circle the fire to
the south, where they could see to better advantage the
Peristyle now burning almost alone. They made the
circuit slowly, Sommers leading his frightened animal
171 THE WEB OE LIEE
among the refuse of the grounds. Mrs. Preston walked
tranquilly by his side, her face still illuminated by
the fading glow. The prairie lay in gloomy vastness,
lighted but a little way by the waning fire- Along the
avenue forms of men and women — mere mites — were
running to and fro- The figures were those of gnomes
toiling under a gloomy, uncertain firmament,, or of
animals furtively peeping out of the gloom of dusk in a
mountain valley. Helpless shapes doomed to wander on
the sandy strand of the earth !
The two found a place, above the little inlet, directly
across from the burning Peristyle. The fire had burned
itself out now, and was dying with protests, of reviving
flame spurting here and there from the dark spots of the
Court. The colossal figure rising from the lagoon in
front of the Peristyle was still illiaiminaied, — the light
falling upon the gilded ball borne aloft, — solemnly pre-
siding even in the ruins of the dream. And behind this
colossal figure of triumph the noble horseman still reined
in his frightened chargers. The velvet shadows of the
night were falling once more over the distant Art Build-
ing, creeping over the little island, leaving the lagoons in
murky silence. The throngs of curious people that had
clustered about the western end of the fire were thinning
out rapidly. A light night breeze from the empty
spaces of prairie wafted the smoke- wreaths northward
toward the city of men whose plaything had been taken.
At their feet a white, column of staff plunged into the
water, hissed and was silent. The passiom was welt
THE WEB OF LIFE 175
Mrs. Preston sighed, like a child waking from a long
revery, a journey into another land.
"I never felt that the fierce things, the passions of
life, could bring their happiness too. It seemed that
happiness was something peaceful, like the fields at
night or this lake when it is still. But that is but one
kind. There are many others."
Her low voice, powerful in its restraint, took up the
mood of the place.
" It dies," Sommers ieplied. " Burnt out 5 "
" No," she protested eagerly ; " it remains in the
heart, warming it in dull, cold times, and its great work
comes after. * It is not well to live without fierceness
The last lights from the fire flickered over her dark
hair and sombre face. She was breathing heavily close
by his side, throwing into the soft night a passionate
warmth of feeling. It set his pulses beating in response.
" You are so insistent upon happiness," the man cried.
" Yes," she nodded. " To die out without this " — her
hand pointed to the blackened Court of Honor — "is to
have lived unfulfilled. That is what I felt as a child in
the rich fields of Wisconsin, as a girl at the chapel of
And she began, as if to explain herself, to tell the
story of the Wisconsin farm, sleeping heavily in the
warm sun among the little lakes; of the crude fervor
that went on under the trees of the quiet seminary hill ;
of the little chapel with its churchyard to the west, com-
manding the lakes, the'woods, the rising bosom of hills.
176 THE "WEB OF LIFE
The story was disconnected, lapsing into mere exclama-
tions, rising to animated description as one memory-
wakened another in the chain of human associations.
Bovine, heavy, and animal, yet peaceful, was that picture
of Wisconsin farm lands, saturated with a few strong
impressions, — the scents of field and of cattle, the fer-
tile soil, and the broad-shouldered men, like Holstein
The excitement of the evening had set free the heart,
and a torrent of feelings and memories surged up, —
disordered, turbulent, yet strangely unified by the simple
nature, the few aims of the being that held them. The
waters of the past had been gathering these past weeks,
and now she found peace in their release, in the abandon-
ment of herself through speech. The night crept on,
cooler now and clouded, the heavens covered with fila-
ments of gray lace ; the horse tied near by stamped and
whinnied. But the two sitting on the shore of the silent
lake felt neither the passing of time nor the increasing
cold of the night.
At the end of her tale the dominant note sounded
once more : ' " Bight or wrong, happiness ! for if we make
happiness in the world, we know God. God lives upon
our happiness." |
This belief, which seemed laboriously gathered from
the tears of tortured experience, had become an obses-
sion. She was silent, brooding over it ; but she herself
was there, larger, less puzzling and negative than hith-
erto, — an awakening force. The man lost his anchor of
convention and traditional reasoning. He felt with her
THE WEB OP LIFE 177
an excitement, a thirst for this evanescent treasure of-
" If you think that — if your whole story turns out that
way — why did you — " But he paused, unwilling to force
her by a brutal proof of illogicality.
" How is he?" he asked at last, with effort.
Her head had drooped forward, but with this question
she moved quickly, as if suddenly lashed.
" He is better, always better."
" My God ! " the man groaned.
" But his mind is weaker — it wanders. Sometimes
it is clear ; then it is dreadful."
" You must not endure it ! "
She laid her hand lightly upon his arm, Warning him
of the inutility of his protest.
" I think we must endure it now. If it had been done
earlier, before — " she answered tranquilly ; and added
definitely, " it is too late now for any relief."
It was on his lips to cry out, " Why, why ? " but as his
eyes looked into her face and met her warm, wistful
glance, he acquiesced in the fate she had ordained. He
took her hand, the one that had touched him, and for
the time he was content that things should be as they
were. She was looking out into the ruined buildings,
where embers hissed ; at last she lowered her eyes> and
" It is very good even as it is, now."
But he rebelled, manlike, unwilling to be satisfied with
mere feeling, desirous of retrieving the irretrievable.
"Fool," he muttered, "a weak fool I have been! I
178 THE "WEB OF LIFE
have fastened this monstrous chain about you — about
"Let. us not think of it — to-night/' she murmured,
her eyes burning into his face.
The first gray of the morning was revealing the out-
lines of the scrub oaks in the field as the two came back
to the cottage. Sommers tied his horse to a fence-post
at the end of the lane, and went in to warm himself from
the chill of the night air. Mrs. Preston prepared some
coffee, while he built a fire in the unused stove. Then
she drew up her work-table before the fire and poured
out the coffee into two thick cups. As there was no
cream, she remarked with a little smile, " It is very late
for after-dinner coffee ! "
She moved and spoke with extreme caution, not
to disturb Mrs. Ducharme and Preston, who became
excitable when awakened suddenly. They drank
their coffee in silence, and Sommers had stood up to
" I shall come very soon," he was saying, and her face
responded with a little smile that lit up its sober corners
and hard lines. Suddenly it grew rigid and white, and
her eyes stared beyond the doctor into the gloom of the
room. Sommers turned to follow her gaze. The door
moved a little. There was some one outside, peering in.
Sommers strode across the floor and threw the door open.
In the dim light of the dawn he could see Preston, half
dressed. He had slunk back from the door.
" Come in," the doctor ordered sternly.
THE WEB OF LUTE 179
The man obeyed, shambling into the room with an air
" Oh, it's you, is it, doctor ? " he remarked quite natu-
rally, with an air of self -possession'. " Haven't seen you
for a long time ; you don't come this way often, at least
to see me,' 1 he added insinuatingly, looking at his wife.
"I heard voices, and I thought I would come down to
see what my wife was up to. Women always need a
little watching, doctor, as you probably know."
He walked toward the table. As he stood there talk-
ing in a sneering voice, in full flesh, shaved and clean, he
certainly did not look like a man stricken with paresis.
Yet the doctor knew that this fitful mood of sanity was
deceitful. The feeble brain had given a momentary
" Coffee ? " Preston continued, as the others remained
silent. " Haven't you got anything better than coffee ?
Where have you been, Mrs. Preston and Dr. — ? "
Mrs. Preston tremblingly poured out some coffee and
handed it to him. The act enraged the doctor. It
seemed symbolical. Preston threw the cup to the floor.
" None of your rot," he shouted. " I bet you have had
something more than coffee, you — " he glared at his
wife, his limbs trembling and twitching as the nervous
irritation gained on him. Sommers sprang forward.
" Go upstairs," he commanded sternly. " You. are not
fit to be here."
"Who are you to give me orders in my own house
before my wife ? " The man balanced himself against
the table. " You get out of this and never come back. I
180 THE -#EB OP LIFE
am a gentleman, I want you to know, and I may be a
drunkard and all that, but I am not going to have any
man hanging — "
Sommers seized Preston by the collar of his shirt and
dragged him to the stairs. The man fought and bit and
cursed. A black slime of words fell from his lips, cover-
ing them all with its defilement. Finally the struggles
subsided, and with one mighty effort the doctor threw
him into the upper chamber and closed the door behind
them. In a few moments he came downstairs, bolting
the door carefully. When he entered the room, he saw
Mrs. Preston staring at the door as if entranced, her
face marble with horror.
"I gave him a hypodermic injection. He will sleep
a few hours," Sommers muttered, throwing himself into
Mrs. Preston sat down at the table and folded her
arms about her face. Her figure shook with her silent
" When the men confront bayonets, you know, they'll
give in quick enough. I have reason to believe that the
President has already ordered United States troops to
protect lives and property in Chicago. The general
managers "will get an injunction restraining Debs and
his crew. When the courts take a hand — "
" So it's to be made into a civil war, is it ? " Sommers
interposed sarcastically. " I saw that the bankrupt roads
had appealed to the government for protection. Like
spendthrift sons, they run to their guardian in time of
" Oh ! you know this thing can't go on. It's a dis-
grace. I was called to go to Detroit on an important
case ; it would mean two thousand dollars to me, — but
I can't get out of the city."
Dr. Lindsay was in an ill humor, having spent three
early morning hoprs in driving into town from Lake
Forest. Sommers listened to his growling, patiently if
not respectfully, and when the eminent physician had
finished, he spoke to him about a certain operation that
was on the office docket for the following week.
"You haven't asked my opinion, doctor," he said, in
conclusion ; " but I have been thinking over the case.
I was present at General Horr's examination, and have
182 THE WEB OE LIFE
seen a good deal of the case these last days while you
were out of town." Lindsay stared, but the young man
plunged on. " So I have ventured to remonstrate. It
would do no good, and it might be serious."
The day was so hot that any feeling sent beads of per-
spiration to the face. Sommers paused when Lindsay
began to mop his head,
" I may say to start with," Lindsay answered, with
an irascible air, as if he intended to take this time to
finish the young man's case, " that I am in the habit of
consulting my attending physicians, and not having them
dictate to me — "
" Who is dictating ? " Sommers asked bluntly. " That
old man. can't possibly get any good from an opera-
* It will do him no harm ? " Lindsay retorted, with an
interrogation in his tone that made the younger surgeon
stare. What he might have said when he realized the
full meaning of Lindsay's remark was not clear in his
own mind. At that moment, however, one of the women
employed in the office knocked at the door- She had a
" Somebody, I think it was Mrs. Prestess or Prefon,
or something — "
" Preston," suggested Sommers.
" That's it. The message was she was in trouble aad
wanted you as soon as possible. But some one is at the
Sommers hastened out without making excuses. When
he returned, Dr. Lindsay had dried his face and was
THE WEB OF LIFE 183
calmer. But his aspect was sufficiently ominous; be
was both pompous and severe.
" Sit down, doctor, will you. I have a few words —
some things I have been meditating to say to you a long
time, ever since our connection began, in fact."
Sommers did not sit down. He stood impatiently,
twirling a stethoscope in his hand. He had passed the
schoolboy age and was a bit overbearing himself.
"As a young man of good promise, well introduced,
and vouched for by some of our best people, I have
naturally looked for great things from you."
Sommers stopped the rotation of the stethoscope and
squared about. His face was no longer flushed with
irritation. Some swift purpose seemed to steady him.
As Sommers made no reply to this exordium, Lindsay
began again, in his diagnostic manner:
"But I have been disappointed. Not that you haven't
done your work well enough, so far as I know. But you
have more than a young man's self-assurance and self-
assertion. I have noticed also a note of condescension,
of criticism in your bearing to those about you. The
critical attitude to society and individuals is a bad one
for a successful practitioner of medicine to fall into. It
is more than that — it is illiberal ; it comes from a con-
tinued residence in a highly exotic society, in a narrow
intellectual circle. Breadth of mind — "
Sommers made an impatient gesture. Every sentence
led the florid practitioner farther and farther into the
infinite. Another time the young surgeon would have
derived a wicked satisfaction from driving the doetor
184 THE WEB OP LIFE
around the field in his argument. To-day the world,
life, was amove, and more important matters waited in
the surcharged city. He must be gone. He said noth-
ing, however, for another five minutes, waiting for some
good opportunity to end the talk. But Lindsay had once
lectured in a college ; he did not easily finish his exposi-
tion. He vaguely sketched a social philosophy, and he
preached the young specialist successful as he preached
him on graduating days of the medical school. He was
shrewd, eloquent, kind, and boresome. At last came the
"11 you are to continue your connection with this
office — "
" I should like to talk that over with you some other
day,'' Sommers interposed positively, " when I have
more time. I am sorry that I shall have to leave at
once." After a moment, he added, "And if you have
any one in mind for my place, don't bother — "
Lindsay waved his hand.
" We never have to ' bother ' about any member of our
" Oh ! very well. I didn't want to leave you in a hole.
Perhaps I was presumptuous to suppose I was of any
importance in the office."
Sommers stepped briskly to the door, while Lindsay
wheeled to his desk. Before he opened the door, he
paused and called back pleasantly :
" But really I shouldn't operate on the General. Poor
old man! And he hasn't much money — 'the usual fee'
would come hard on him."
THE WEB OP LIFE 185
Lindsay paid no attention to the remark. Sommers
had passed from his -world altogether ; there would be a
long, hard road for this young man in the practice of his
profession in Chicago, if Dr. Lindsay, consulting surgeon
at St. Isidore's, St. Martha's, the Home for Incurables,
the Institute for Pulmonary Diseases, etc., could bring it
Sommers hastily rifled certain pigeonholes of his desk,
tossing the letters into his little black bag, and seizing
his hat hurried out. He stopped at the clerk's desk to
leave a direction for forwarding his mail.
"Going away for a vacation?" Miss Clark queried.
"Yes, for a good long one," the young surgeon
answered. As the door slammed behind him, the black-
haired Miss Clark turned to the assistant stenographer
with a yawn.
" He's got his travelling papers. I knew there was a
fuss when I called him to the 'phone. I guess he wasn't
tony enough for this office."
Sommers was now sinking down to the heated street,
unmindful whether he was " tony " enough for the Athe-
nian Building or not. Mrs. Dueharme had whispered
over the telephone: "He's gone. Come quick. Mrs.
Preston wants you bad."
For an instant he asked himself if he had made a mis-
take when he had given Preston the injection of mor-
phine two days before. A glance at the little instrument
reassured him. Perhaps the woman meant merely that
he had got away again from the cottage. Why, then,
such agitation over the creature's disappearance ? But
186 THE WEB OF LIFE
she wanted him " bad." He hurried into the torrid street
out of the cool, marble-lined hall, like a factory hand
dismissed from his job. It was the first break with the
order of things he had grown into. But he had no
time for regrets.
He crossed the deserted streets where the women
usually shop, and turned into the strip of park bordered
by the Illinois Central tracks. Possibly a train might
be going out, under a heavy guard of deputy sheriffs, and
in that case he would save much time in reaching Ninety-
first Street. Exhilarated by his new freedom, he walked
briskly, threading his way among the groups of idle
workmen who had gathered in the park. As he skirted
a large group, he recognized Dresser, who was shouting
a declamatory speech. The men received it apathetically,
and Dresser got off the bench on which he had stood and
pushed his way through the crowd.
"Well," Sommers said, as Dresser came by him.
"How does the good work move? You've got the
courts down on you, and pretty soon there'll be the
troops to settle with. There's only one finish when
the workingmen are led by a man like Debs, and the
capitalists have an association of general managers as
staff. Besides, your people have put the issue badly'
before the public. The public understands now that it
is a question of whether it, every one of them, shall do
what he wants to or not. And the general public says it
won't be held up in this pistol-in-your-face fashion. So
Pullman and the others get in behind the great public
opinion, and there you are ! "
THE WEB OF LITE 187
" All that newspaper talk about riot and destruction of
property is a mass of lies," Dresser exclaimed bitterly.
"Whicb way are you going? I will walk along with
As the two men proceeded in the direction of the big
station, Dresser continued :
" I know there isn't any violence from the strikers.
It's the tough element and the railroads. They're burn-
ing cars themselves so as to rouse public opinion."
" You don't believe it ? I suppose you won't believe
that the general managers are offering us, the leaders,
money, — money down and a lot of it, to call the strike
" Yes, I'll believe that ; but you won't get any one to
believe the other thing. And you'd better take the
money ! "
" We'll have every laboring man in Chicago out on a
strike in a week," Dresser added confidentially. " There
hasn't been a car of beef shipped out of the stock yards,
or of cattle shipped in. I guess when the country begins
to feel hungry, it will know something's on here. The
butchers haven't a three days' supply left for the city.
We'll starve 'em out! "
Sommers knew there was some truth in this. The
huge slaughter-houses that fed a good part of the world
were silent and empty, for lack of animal material. The
stock yards had nothing to fill their bloody maw, while
trains of cars of hogs and steers stood unswitched on
the hundreds of sidings about the city. The world
188 THE WEB OF LIFE
would shortly feel this stoppage of its Chicago beef and
Armour pork, and the world would grumble and know for
once that Chicago fed it. Inside the city there was
talk of a famine. The condition was like that of the
beleaguered city of the Middle Ages, threatened with
starvation while wheat and cattle rotted outside its grasp.
But the enemy was within its walls, either rioting up
and down the iron roadways, or sipping its cooling
draughts and fanning itself with the garish pages of the
morning paper at some comfortable club. It was a war
of injunctions and court decrees. But the passions were
the same as those that set Paris flaming a century before,
and it was a war with but one end: the well-fed, well-
equipped legions must always win.
"They're too strong for you," Sommers said at last.
" You will save a good many people from a lot of misery,
if you will sell out now quietly, and prevent the shooting."
" That's the cynicism of your crowd."
" You can't say my crowd any longer ; they never were
my crowd, I guess."
"Have you been fired?" Dresser asked, with childish
"Not exactly, but I fancy Lindsay and I won't find
each other's society healthy in the future."
"It isn't the same thing, though. Professional men
like you can never get very far from the rich. It isn't
like losing your bread and butter."
" Pretty much that, at present. And I think I shall
get some distance from the rich — perhaps go out farther
west into some small town."
THE WEB OF LIFE 189
Dresser did not reply ; he kept on with Sommers, as if
to express his sympathy over a misfortune. The court
that led to the Park Bow station was full of people.
Men wearing white ribbons were thickly sprinkled in
the crowd. The badge fluttered even from the broad
breasts of the few apathetic policemen.
The crowd was kept off the tracks and the station
premises by an iron fence, defended by a few railway
police and cowed deputy sheriffs. Every now and then,
however, a man climbed the ugly fence and dropped
down on the other side. Then he ran for the shelter
of the long lines of cars standing on the siding. A crew
of men recruited from the office force of the railroad was
trying to make up a train. The rabble that had gained
entrance to the yards were blocking their movements by
throwing switches at the critical moment. As Sommers
came up to the fence, the switching engine had been
thrown into the wrong siding, and had bunted up at full
speed against a milk car, sending the latter down the
siding to the main track. It took the switch at a sharp
pace, was derailed, and blocked the track. The crowd
in the court gave a shout of delight. The switching
engine had to be abandoned.
At this moment Sommers was jostled against a sty-
lishly dressed woman, who was trying to work her way
through the seething mass that swayed up and down the
narrow court. He turned to apologize, and was amazed
to see that the young woman was Louise Hitchcock. She
was frightened, but keeping her head she was doing her
best to gain the vestibule of a neighboring store. She
190 THE WEB OF LIEE
recognized Sommers and smiled in joyful relief. Then
her glance passed over Sommers to Dresser, who was
sullenly standing with his hands in his pockets, and
ended in a polite stare, as if to say, 'Well, is that a
specimen of the people you prefer to my friends ? '
" You've got one of your crowd on your hands," Dresser
muttered, and edged off into the mob.
" What are you doing here ? " Sommers demanded,
" I drove down to meet papa. He was to come by
the Michigan Central, and Uncle Brome telephoned that
the railroad people said the train would get through.
But he didn't come. I waited and waited, and at last
tried to get into the station to find out what had hap-
pened. I couldn't get through."
Sommers had edged her into a protected corner formed
by a large telephone post. The jostling people stared
impudently at the prettily dressed young woman. To
their eyes she betrayed herself at a glance as one of the
privileged, who used the banned Pullman cars.
"Whar's your kerridge?" a woman called out over
Sommers's shoulder. A man pushed him rudely into
" Why -don't you take your private kyar ? "
" The road is good enough for me / "
"Come," Sommers shouted in her ear, "we must get
out of this at once. Take my arm, — no, follow me, — that
will attract less attention."
The girl was quite at ease, now that this welcome
friend had appeared opportunely. Another prolonged
THE "WEB OP LIFE 191
shout, almost a howl of derision, went up by the fence at
some new trick played upon the frantic railroad officials.
"What people!" the girl exclaimed scornfully.
"Where are the police?"
"Don't speak so loud," Sommers answered impatiently,
"if you wish to escape insult. There the police are,
over there by the park. They don't seem especially
The girl closed her lips tightly and followed Sommers.
It was no easy task to penetrate the hot, sweating mob
that was packing into the court, and bearing down toward
the tracks where the fun was going on. Sommers made
three feet, then lost two. The crowd seemed especially
anxious to keep them back, and Miss Hitchcock was
hustled and pushed roughly hither and thither until she
grasped Sommers's coat with trembling hands. A fleshy
man, with a dirty two weeks' beard on his tanned face,
shoved Sommers back with a brutal laugh. Sommers
pushed him off. In a moment fists were up, the young
doctor's hat was knocked off, and some one threw a stone
that he received on his cheek.
Sommers turned, grasped the girl with one arm, and
threw himself and her upon the more yielding corner of
the press. Tl^en he dragged his companion for a few
steps until the jam slackened at the open door of a
saloon. Into this the two were pushed by the eddying
mob, and escaped. For a moment they stood against
the bar that protected the window. The saloon was
full of men, foul with tobacco smoke, and the floor was
filthy. Flies sluggishly buzzed about the pools of beer on
192 THE WEB OF LIFE
the bar counter. The men were talking excitedly ; a few
thin, ragged hangers-on were looting the free-lunch dishes
surreptitiously. Miss Hitchcock's face expressed her
disgust, but she said nothing. She had learned her lesson.
"Wait here," Sommers ordered, "while I find out
whether we can get out of this by a back door."
He spoke to the barkeeper, who lethargically jerked a
thumb over his shoulder. They elbowed their way across
the room, Miss Hitchcock rather ostentatiously drawing
up her skirts and threading her way among the pools
of the dirty floor. The occupants of the bar-room, how-
ever, gave the strangers only slight attention. The
heavy atmosphere of smoke and beer, heated to the boil-
ing point by the afternoon sun, seemed to have soddened
their senses. Behind the bar the two found a passage
to the alley in the rear, which led by a cross alley into
a deserted street. Finally they emerged on the placid
" Your face is bleeding ! " Miss Hitchcock exclaimed.
" Are you hurt ? "
"No," Sommers answered, mopping his brow and
settling his collar. "They were good enough to spare
"I wouldn't say that," her companion interrupted
sharply. " We are all brutes each in our way," he added
The girl's face reddened, and she dropped his arm,
which was no longer necessary for protection. She raised
her crushed and soiled skirt, and looked at it ruefully.
THE WEB OF LIFE 193
" I wonder what has become of poor papa ! " she
exclaimed. " This strike has caused him so much worry.
I came in from Lake Forest to open the house for him
and stay with him until the trains begin to run again."
She seemed to expect sympathy for the disagreeable
circumstances that persisted in upsetting the Hitchcock
plans. But Sommers paid no attention to this social
demand, and they walked on briskly. Finally Miss
Hitchcock said coldly:
" I can go home alone, now, if you have anything to do.
Of course I should like to have you come home and rest
after this — "
" I shall have to return to my room for a hat," Som-
mers replied, in a matter-of-fact way. " I will leave you
at your house."
Miss Hitchcock insensibly drew herself up and walked
more quickly. The boulevard, usually gay with carriages
in the late afternoon, was absolutely deserted except for
an occasional shop-boy on a bicycle. Sommers, hatless,
with a torn coat, walking beside a somewhat bedraggled
young woman, could arouse no comment from the dark-
ened windows of the large houses. As they passed
Twenty-second Street, Miss Hitchcock slackened her pace
and spoke again.
" You don't think they are right, surely ? "
"No," the doctor replied absent-mindedly. He was
thinking how he had been delayed from going to Mrs.
Preston's, and how strange was this promenade down
the fashionable boulevard where he had so often walked
with Miss Hitchcock on bright Sundays, bowing at every
194 THE WEB OF LIFE
step to the gayly dressed groups of acquaintances. He was
taking the stroll for the last time, something told him,
on this hot, stifling July afternoon, between the rows of
deserted houses. In twenty-four hours he should be a
part of them in all practical ways — a part of the strug-
gling mob, that lived from day to day, not knowing when
the bread would give out, with no privileges, no pleasant
vacations, no agreeable houses to frequent, no dinner par-
ties at the close of a busy day. He was not sorry for
the change, so far as he had thought of it. At least he
should escape the feeling of irritation, of criticism, which
Lindsay so much deplored, that had been growing ever
since he had left hospital work. The body social was dis-
eased, and he could not make any satisfactory diagnosis
of the evil ; but at least he should feel better to have done
with the privileged assertive classes, to have taken up his
part with the less Philistine, more pitiably blind mob.
"With the absolute character of his nature and the final-
ity of youth, he saw in a very decisive manner the plunge
he was about to make. He was to leave one life and enter
another, just as much as if he should leave Chicago and
move to Calcutta — more so, indeed. He was to leave
one set of people, and all their ways, and start with life
on the simplest, crudest base. He should not call on his
Chicago friends, who for the most part belonged to one
set, and after a word from Lindsay they would cease to
bother him. He would be out of place among the suc-
cessful, and they would realize it as well as he. But he
should be sorry to lose sight of certain parts of this life, —
of this girl, for example, whom he had liked so much from
THE WEB OF LIFE 195
the very first, who had been so good to him, who was so
sincere and honest and personally attractive.
Yet it was strange, the change in his feelings toward
her brought about in the few days that had elapsed since
they had parted at Lake Forest. It was so obvious to-
day that they could never have come together. While he
had tried to do the things that she approved, he had been
hot and restless, and had never, for one moment, had the
calm certainty, the exquisite fulness of feeling that he
had now — that the other woman had given him without
a single outspoken word.
If things had gone differently these past months, — no,
from his birth and from hers, too, — if every circum-
stance of society had not conspired to put them apart,
who knows ! They might have solved a riddle or two
together and been happy. But it was all foolish specu-
lation now, and it was well that their differences should
be emphasized at this last chance meeting ; that she should
be hostile to him. He summed the matter up thus, and,
as if answering her last remark, said :
" They, my dear Miss Hitchcock, are wrong, and you
are wrong, if we can use pronouns so loosely. But I have
come to feel that I had rather be wrong with them than
wrong with you. From to-day, when you speak of
'them,' you can include me."
And to correct any vagueness in his declaration, he
" I have left Lindsay's shop, and shall never go back."
He could feel that she caught her breath, but she said
196 THE WEB OF LIFE
" I should never be successful in that -way, though it
wasn't for that reason that I left."
" Do you think you can do more for people by putting
yourself — away, holding off — "
Her voice sank.
" That is a subterfuge," Sommers answered hotly, " fit
only for clergymen and beggars for charities. I am not
sure, anyway, that I want ' to do for ' people. I think no
fine theories about social service and all that settlement
stuff. I want to be a man, and have a man's right to-
starb with the crowd at the scratch, not given a handi-
cap. There are too many handicaps in the crowd I have
Miss Hitchcock pressed her lips together, as if to
restrain a hot reply. She had grown white from the
fatigue and excitement and heat. They were almost at
her father's house, walking along the steaming asphalt
of the quiet avenue. A few old trees had been allowed
to remain on these blocks, and they drooped over the
street, giving a pleasant shade to the broad houses and
the little patches of sward. Just around the corner were
some rickety wooden tenements, and a street so wretch-
edly paved that in the great holes where the blocks had
rotted out stood pools of filthy, rankly smelling water.
"I have merely decided to move around the corner,"
the young man remarked grimly.
Miss Hitchcock's lips trembled. She walked more
slowly; and she tried to say something, to make some
ill-defined appeal. As she had almost found the words,
a carriage approached the Hitchcock house and drew up.
THE "WEB OE LIFE 197
Out of it Colonel Hitchcock stepped heavily. His silk
hat was crushed, and his clothes were covered with dust.
" Papa ! " his daughter exclaimed, running forward
anxiously. "What has happened? Where have you
been? Are you hurt?"
" No, yes, I guess not," the old man laughed good-
naturedly. " Howdy do, doctor ! They stopped the train
out by Grand Crossing, and some fellows began firing
stones. It was pretty lively for a time. I thought you
and your mother would worry, so I got out of it the best
way I could and came in on the street cars."
" Poor papa ! " the girl exclaimed, seizing his arm.
She glanced at Sommers defiantly. Here was her argu-
ment. Sommers looked on coolly, not accepting the
"Won't you come in, doctor?" Colonel Hitchcock
asked. "Do come in and rest," his daughter added.
But the young doctor shook his head.
" I think I will go home and brush up — around the
corner," he added with slight irony.
The girl turned to her father and took his arm, and
they slowly walked up the path to the big darkened
Sommees did not go to his rooms, however. He could
delay no longer reaching Mrs. Preston. Prom the quiet
decorous boulevard, with its clean asphalt pavement and
pleasant trees, he turned at once into the dirty cross
street. The oasis of the prosperous in the expanse of
cheap houses and tawdry flat-buildings was so small!
It was easy, indeed, to step at least physically from the
one world to the other.
At a little shop near the cable line he bought a hat
and tie, and bathed his face. Then he took the cable
car, which connected with lines of electric ears that
radiated far out into the distant' prairie. Along the
interminable avenue the cable train slowly jerked its
way, grinding, jarring, lurching, grating, shrieking — an
infernal public chariot. Sommers wondered what influ-
ence years of using this hideous machine would have upon
the nerves of the people. This car-load seemed quies-
cent and dull enough — with the languor of unexpectant
animals, who were accustomed to being hauled mile by
mile through the dirty avenues of life. His attention
was caught by the ever repeated phenomena of the
squalid street. Block after block, mile after mile, it was
the same thing. No other city on the globe could pre-
sent quite this combination of tawdriness, slackness, dirt,
THE WEB OP LIFE 199
vulgarity, which was Cottage Grove Avenue. India,
the Spanish-American countries, might show something
fouler as far as mere filth, but nothing so incomparably
mean and long. The brick blocks, of many shades of grimy
red and fawn color, thin as paper, cheap as dishonest con-
tractor and bad labor could make them, were bulging
and lopping at every angle. Built by the half mile for
a day's smartness, they were going to pieces rapidly.
Here was no uniformity of cheapness, however, for every
now and then little squat cottages with mouldy earth
plots broke the line of more pretentious ugliness. The
saloons, the shops, the sidewalks, were coated with
soot and ancient grime. From the cross streets savage
gusts of the fierce west wind dashed down the avenue
and swirled the accumulated refuse into the car, chok-.
ing the passengers, and covering every object with a cloud
of filth. Once and again the car jolted across intersect-
ing boulevards that presented some relief in the way
of green grass and large, heavy-fronted houses. Except
for these strips of parklike avenues, where the rich
lived, — pieced into the cheaper stuff of the city, as it
were, — all was alike, flat-building and house and store
and wooden shanty, — a city of booths, of extemporized
Sommers picked up a newspaper that some passenger
had thrown aside and endeavored to distract his mind
from the forlorn sight. The sheets were gritty to the
touch, and left a smutch upon the fingers. His clothes
were sifted over with dust and fine particles of manure.
The seat grated beneath his legs. The great head-lines
200 THE WEB OF LIFE
in the newspaper announced that the troops were arriv-
ing. Columns of childish, reportorial prattle followed,
describing the martial bearing of the officers, the fierce-
ness of the "bronzed Indian fighters." The city was
under martial law. He read also the bickering tele-
grams exchanged between the state authorities and the
■ federal government, and interviews with leading citizens,
praising the much-vilified President for his firm act in
upholding law and order. The general managers were
clever fellows ! Sommers threw the grimy sheet aside.
It was right, this firm assertion of the law; but in what
a cause, for what people !
He turned to the street once more.
This block, through which the car was grinding its way,
had a freakish individuality in sidewalks. Each builder
had had his own idea of what the proper street level
should be, and had laid his sidewalk accordingly. There
were at least six different levels in this one block. The
same blunt expression of wilful individuality was evident
in every line of every building. It was the apotheosis
of democratic independence. This was not a squalid dis-
trict, nor a tough one. Goose Island, the stock yards, the
Bohemian district, the lumber yards, the factories, — all
the aspects of the city monstrous by right, were miles
away. But Halsted Street, with its picturesque muta-
tions of poverty and its foreign air, was infinitely
worthier than this. Sommers shuddered to think how
many miles of Cottage Grove Avenue and its like Chicago
contained, — not vicious, not squalid, merely desolate
and unforgivably vulgar. If it were properly paved and
THE WEB OP LIFE 201
cleaned, it would be bearable. But the selfish rich and
the ignorant poor make bad housekeepers.
On, on they jolted and jarred, dropping along the cross
streets a cargo of indifferent souls, and taking in a new-
cargo of white-ribboned men, who talked in loud voices
or spat ruminatively over the floors. Sommers sank back
listless. It was well that he had taken this way of en-
tering the new life. To have galloped south through the
cool parks would have been absurd, like playing at char-
ity. This was the life of the people, — not the miserably .
poor, but the mean and small, the mass in this, our pros- j
perous country. Through the dirty, common avenues, I
without one touch of beauty, they were destined to travel/
all their days, and he with them.
He shut his eyes and thought of the woman to whom
he was journeying. Hers was the face he had seen in
imagination in all his moods of revolt, of disgust with
the privileged. She was the figure, paramount, of those
who had soul enough to thirst for beauty, happiness, life,
and to whom they were denied. The machine of society
whirled some aloft — the woman he had just left — but
it dragged her down. It was the machine that maddened
him. He was taking himself away from those who
governed the machine, who ran it and oiled it, and
turned it to their own pleasures. He had chosen to be
of the multitude whom the machine ground. The brutal ~~i
axioms of the economists urged men to climb, to domi- \
nate, and held out as the noblest ideal of the great com- \
monwealth the right of every man to triumph over his I
brother. If the world could not be run on any less >
202 THE WEB OF LIFE
~~> brutal plan than this creed of success, success, then let
there be anarchy — anything.
With a final groan the cable train came to a halt,
and the hypnotic sleep of the pilgrimage through Cottage
Grove Avenue ended. Sommers started up — alert,
anxious, eager to see her once more, the glow of enchant-
— ment, of love renewed in his soul. Yet at the very end
of his journey he was fearful for the first time. How
could they meet, after the foul scene with Preston ?
Mrs. Ducharme opened the cottage door, and recogniz-
ing the young doctor in the twilight sighed with relief.
Her placid countenance was ruffled.
" Where is Mrs. Preston ? " he demanded hastily.
" She's gone out for a moment. I made her take a
" How is Mr. Preston ? "
Mrs. Ducharme's face assumed a frightened expression.
She spoke in low tones, as if the patient might still
" He's rested for good, poor man ! He won't want no
more liquor this life, I guess." Then more solemnly
she ended, " He's at peace."
Without further words Sommers went upstairs. The
outer door was unbarred, and the door into the room
open. Preston was lying, clean and quiet, in a clean bed
with a fresh counterpane. His face was turned to one
side, as if he were sleeping. His eyes were suspiciously
reddened under the lids, and his cheeks had rather more
bloat than the doctor remembered. He was dead, sure
THE WEB OF LIFE 203
enough, at peace at last, and the special cause for the
ending was of little importance. Sommers proceeded to
make an examination, however ; he would have to sign
a certificate for the health officers. As he bent over the
inert form, he had a feeling of commiseration rather
than of relief. Worthless clay that the man was, it
seemed petty now to have been so disturbed over his
living on, for such satisfactions as his poor fragment of
life gave him. Like the insignificant insect which preyed
on its own petty world, he had, maybe, his rights to his
prey. At all events, now that he had ceased to trouble,
it was foolish to have any feeling of disgust, of reproach,
of hatred. God and life had made him so, as God and
life had made the mighty. . . .
Suddenly the doctor's eye detected something that
arrested his attention, and he proceeded to look at the
dead man more carefully. Then he started back and
called out to the woman below. When she came panting
up the stairs, he asked. sternly:
" Was he given anything ? "
" What ? " she asked, retreating from the room.
" Any medicine ? " the doctor pursued, eying her
" He was took bad last night, and Mrs. Preston went
to see what was the matter. She might have given him
somethin' to rest him. I dunno."
The doctor went back to the dead man and examined
him again; the woman crawled away. Again Sommers
abandoned his task, nervously twitching the bedclothes
over the cold form. He went to the window and opened
204 THE WEB OF LIFE
it, and stood breathing the night air. There was another
step upon the stair, and Sommers turned. It was Mrs.
Preston. She started on seeing the doctor, and he
noticed how pale her face appeared, even in the darken-
ing room. He was also conscious of the start she had
" I have looked for you so long ! " she exclaimed
eagerly, hastening toward him, and then stopping in
" I was detained, hindered in every possible way," the
doctor replied. His tone was chilling, preoccupied.
" He was ill last night, but I thought nothing of it.
"When I returned from an errand this noon, he had fallen
into a kind of stupor — last night he was so excited —
and I was alarmed. I had Mrs. Ducharme telephone for
you then. He did not come out of his stupor," she
added in a low tone.
Sommers stepped back to the bedside. " Did you — "
he began involuntarily, but he left his sentence unfin-
ished, and turned away again.
" I have completed my examination," he said at last.
" Let us go downstairs."
When they had reached the sitting room, Mrs. Preston
lighted a lamp and placed it on the table beside the
doctor. The strong light increased the pallor of her face.
Sommers noticed that the eyes were sunken and had
black circles. His glance rested on her hands, as she
leaned with folded arms on the table. They were white
and wan like the face. The blood seemed to have left
THE WEB OF LIFE 205
Sommers raised his eyes and looked at her face. She
returned his glance for a moment, then flushes of color
spread over her face and died down, and she dropped her
face. He laid his hand softly upon hers, and spoke her
name for the first time, "Alves." A tear dropped on
his hand beneath the lamp, then another and another.
He started up from his seat and strode to the window,
keeping his back turned to the quiescent woman. It was
terrible ! He knew that he was a fool, but none the less
something awesome, cruel, forbidding, tainted the atmos-
At last he said in a dull voice :
" Mrs. Preston, will you get me pen and ink. I must
fill out the usual certificate, stating the disease that
caused death," he added meaningly, wheeling about.
She started, stung by his formal words, and fetched
writing materials. As he wrote out the certificate, she
went into the next room. When she returned, Sommers
got up and crossed toward her, impelled by an irresisti-
ble desire to know.
" I have said that death was due to congestion of the
brain, indirectly resulting from illness and operation for
the removal of a bullet."
Mrs. Preston stared at him, her face curiously blank,
as though to say, ' Why are you so cruel ? ' He offered
her the wisp of paper.
" Put it there ! " she cried, motioning to the mantel-
The doctor placed the certificate on the mantel, and
then returned to his chair by the lamp.
206 THE WEB OF LIFE
"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked
"I have done — the necessary things — he will be
buried to-morrow afternoon."
Her words came with an effort, as if every voluntary
act caused her pain.
" I am sorry that I did not come earlier, to save you
these tasks," the doctor answered more gently. " Isn't
there some one you would like to send for, some relative
or friend ? "
She shook her head, looking at him with beseeching
eyes. Then they were silent, until the silence was too
much to be borne. Sommers rose hastily to take leave.
"I can do nothing more to-night," he said hastily.
" I shall come to-morrow."
She made no reply and did not rise. Outside, the place
seemed so deadly still! The house was dark ; the neigh-
boring avenue, unusually deserted. Sommers. shivered.
After he had reached the end of the lane, he turned back,
and walked swiftly to the cottage. At the corner he
looked into the room where they had been sitting. She
was still in the same place where he had left her, by the
lamp, her white, almost stern face, with its large, severe
lines, staring fiercely into space. It made him uneasy,
this long, tense look that betrayed a mind fixed upon
one idea, and that idea ! He crept away into the lane to
flee from it, and walked swiftly down the cross street
toward the lake.
" It could not be ! " he muttered, as lie stumbled on in
the dark. He was oversuspicious. But how else could the
facts be explained ? Such deaths, he knew, did not occur
to men in Preston's condition, — calm, easy deaths, '
without the agony of convulsion. No, it must be.
Science was stronger than desire, than character, than
human imagination. To disbelieve his scientific knowl-
edge would be to deny the axioms of life.
And why should it not be? Was it not what he
had reproached himself for not doing, and reproached his
medical brethren as cowards for not daring to do in so
many cases ? The horror of it, the uncanniness of it,
thus stopping the human animal's course as one would
stop an ill-regulated watch, had never appealed to him
before. "Prejudice ! " he cried aloud. His involuntary
drawing back was but an unconscious result of the false
training of centuries. As a doctor, familiar with death,
cherishing no illusions about the value of the human
body, he should not act like a nervous woman, and run
away ! How brutal he had been to her !
His mind passed on, traversing vast areas of specula-
tion by a kind of cerebral shorthand. What would be
the result upon humanity if all doctors took this liberty
of decision ? Where could you draw the distinction be-
208 THE WEB OP MFE
tween murder and medicine? Was science advanced
enough, as yet to say any certain thing about the
human body and mind ? There were always mysterious
exceptions which might well make any doctor doubtful
of drastic measures. And the value of human life, so
cheap here in this thirsty million of souls, cheap in the
hospitals ; but really, essentially, at the bottom of things,
who knew how cheap it was ?
Thus for an hour or more his mind was let loose
among the tenebra of life, while his feet pushed on
mechanically over the dusty roads that skirted the lake.
He had nowhere to go, now that he had broken with the
routine of life, and he gave himself up to the unaccus-
tomed debauch of willess thinking. He was conscious at
length of traversing the vacant waste where the service-
buildings of the Fair had stood. Beyond were the
shattered walls of the little convent, wrapped in the
soft summer night. There they had sat together and
watched the fire die out, while she told her story, and he
listened in love.
The real thing — was the woman. This thought
stung him like a reproach of cowardice. He had for-
gotten her ! And she was but the instrument in the deed,
for he had taught her that this care of a worthless life
was sentimental, hysterical. He had urged her to put it
away in some easy fashion, to hide it at least, in some
sort of an asylum. That she had steadfastly refused to
do. Better death outright, she had said. And that
which he had feared to undertake^ she had done, fear-
lessly. He had recoiled; it made him tremble to think
THE WEB OE LIFE 209
of her in that act. What cowardice ! These were the
consequences of his teaching, of his belief.
What had made her take this resolution so suddenly ?
There was time, all the time in the world, and having
once neglected the thing at the very start, it was curious
that she should now, at this late date, make her desperate
resolve. Preston had not been worse, more difficult to
handle. In fact, when the two women had grown used
to his case, the management had been simple enough.
He had thought she was inured to the disgust and the
horror — placid almost, and taking the thing like one
accustomed to pain. What was the cause of her revolt
from her burden ? Those filthy words the night they had
come back late, when the fellow had stolen downstairs
and spied upon them at their coffee. Had the shame of
it before him stung her past enduring ? Had it eaten
into her mind and inflamed her ?
But his feverish imagination was not content with this
illumination of the facts. Something more lay behind it
all. He sat down beside a prostrate column to penetrate
the gloom. As he gazed* before him into the dark
heavens, the blast furnace winked like an evil eye, then
silently belched flame and smoke, then relapsed into its
seething self. The monster's breath illumined the dusky
sky for a few moments. Blackness then fell over all for
two minutes, and again the beast reappeared. Far away
to the west came through the night a faint roar, like the
raving of men. There was a line of light against the
horizon : the mob was burning freight cars. Soon the bon-
fire died down. The cries sounded more and more faintly,
210 THE "WEB OF LIFE
and more distinctly came the sharp reports of revolvers or
military rifles. The law had taken a hand in the game.
It was a night like this when the first glow of joy had
suffused his life; and then had come that night, that
wonderful night, which began in the lurid fire, and ended
foully with Preston's words. Here was the key : she too
loved, as he had, and this feeling which had drawn them
together from the very moment when he had looked from
the helpless form on the hospital chair to her had grown,
surging up in her heart as in his — until, until she had
taken this last stern step, and had —
He had begun to walk once more, heading south, re-
tracing his steps by the most direct line. To leave her
thus, with all the horror ; thus when she had reached out
to him — oh, the shame, the brutality of it ! He hastened
his steps almost to a run. Perhaps it was already too
late ; his cold, hard manner had killed her love, crushed
her, and she had gone on to the next step. The night
was cold now, but his hands were damp with a feverish
sweat. How blind, not to have read at once, as she
would have done, the whole deed ! What she had done,
she had done for him, for both, and he had left her to
carry the full burden alone. Like a boy, he had wavered
at the sight of what she had accomplished so swiftly,
so competently, for their sake. To love shamefully, that
was not in her, and she had put the cause of shame away.
As he hurried on southwards, his thoughts flew out on
this new track. She had made the way clear ; he must
go to her, take her, accept her acts with her love. They
were one now.
THE WEB OP LIEE 211
It was late, past midnight, -when he reached the long
cross street that led to the lane of the cottage, and the
buzz of the passing cars no longer disturbed the hoarse
chorus of frogs. Sommers crept up the lane stealthily
to the dark cottage, afraid for what he might find, chilled
by the forbidding aspect of the place. Instead of enter-
ing the door, he paused by the open window and peered
in. Within the gloom of the room he could make out
her bent figure, her head fallen forward over her arms.
She was sitting where he had left her, but the spell of
her tense gaze had broken. She had laid her head upon
the table to weep, and had not raised* it all these hours.
The night wind soughed into the room through the open
window, drifting a piece of paper about the floor, poking
into the gloom of the interior beyond.
Sommers noiselessly pushed open the door and entered
the room. The bent figure did not heed the tread of his
steps. He stood over her, knelt down, and wrapped her
in his arms.
" Alves ! " he whispered.
She roused herself as from a dream and turned her face
to his, wonderingly.
"Alves," he stammered, reading eagerly the sombre
lines of her face, " I have come Jback — for always." —
Then she spoke, and her voice had a mechanical ring,
as if for a long time it had not been used.
" But you left me -—why did you come back ? "
"You know," he answered, Eis feverish face close to
her white forehead. " You know ! " The face was so cold,
so large and sombre, that it seemed to chill his fever.
212 THE "WEB OF LIFE
"I have come to share — to have you, because I lovej
because we loved — from the first, all through."
At his slow, trembling words, the woman's face filled
with the warm blood of returning life. Her flesh paled
and flushed, and her eyes lit slowly with passion ; her
arms that had rested limply on the table took life once
more and grasped him. The feeling sweeping into her
lifeless body thrilled him like fire. She was another
woman — he had never known her until this communi-
" You love me ? " she asked, with a moan of inarticu-
" Love you, love you, love you, Alves," he repeated in
savage iteration. " Now, — " he kissed her lips. They
were no longer cold. " You are mine, mine, do you un-
derstand ? Nothing shall touch you. That has passed ! "
For a moment she looked at him in question. But in-
stantly her face smiled in content, and she flashed back
his passion. She kissed him, drawing him down closer
and closer into her warm self.
With this long kiss a new love put forth its strength,
not the pale beatitude of his dream, with its sweet wist-
fulness, its shy desires. That was large and vague and
insubstantial, permeating like an odor the humdrum pur-
lieus of the day. This was savage, triumphant, that
leaped like flame from his heart to his mouth, that
burned blood-red on the black night. It swept away
hesitation, a sick man's nicety and doubts, all the preju-
dices of all times ! This was love, unchained, that came
like "waters from the mountains to quench the thirst of
THE WEB OP LIFE 213
blazing deserts : parijhed, dry, in dust ; now slaked and t
yet ever thirsty.
"How could it have been otherwise," he murmured,
more to himself than to her.
" What ? " she asked, startled, withdrawing herself.
" Don't think, don't think ! " he exclaimed, in fear of
the ebbing of the waters.
Her doubts were calmed, and she yielded to his insist-
ence, slipping into his arms with an unintelligible cry,
the satisfied note of desire. For all the waiting of the
empty years came this rich payment — love that satisfied,
that could never be satisfied.
In the first light of the morning the Ducharme woman,
creeping from her room in the rear, caught sight of them.
Mrs. Preston's head was lying on the doctor's arm, while
he knelt beside the table, watching her pale face in its
undisturbed sleep. At the footfall, he roused her gently.
Mrs. Ducharme hastily drew back. She, too, did not
seem to have passed a peaceful night. Her flabby fat
face was sickly white, and she trembled as she opened
the side door to the hot morning sun. She threw some
small thing into the waste by the door; then looking
around to see that she was not observed, she hurled with
all her strength a long bottle toward the swamp across
the fence. The bottle fell short of the swamp, but it
sank among the reeds and the fleurs-de-lys of the margin.
Then the woman closed the door softly.
That morning Sommers returned to the city. Mrs.
Preston had asked him to notify Dr. Leonard and Miss
M'Gann, the only friends she had in Chicago, that the
funeral would take place late in the afternoon. In the
elevator of the Athenian Building, Sommers met Dr.
Lindsay with Dr. Eupert, the oldest member of the office
staff. The two men bowed and edged their backs
toward Sommers. He was already being forgotten.
When the elevator cage discharged its load on the top
floor, Eupert, who was popularly held to be a genial
man, lingered behind his colleague, and tried to say
something to the young doctor.
" Private practice ? " he asked sympathetically, " or
will you try hospital work again ? "
"I haven't thought anything about it," Sommers
Eupert, a man of useful, mediocre ability, eyed the
younger man with curiosity, thinking that doubtless he
had private means ; that it was a pity he and Lindsay
had fallen out, for he was a good fellow and clever.
" Well — glad to see you. Drop in occasionally — if
you stay in Chicago."
The last phrase stung Sommers. It seemed to take
for granted that there could be nothing professionally
THE WEB OF LIEE 215
to keep him in Chicago after the fiasco of his introduc-
tion. He would have to learn how much a man's future -
depended upon the opinion of men whose opinion he )
Dr. Leonard came out of his den, where he was filling
a tooth. His spectacles were pushed up over his shaggy
brows, and little particles of gold and of ground bone
clung untidily to the folds of his crumpled linen jacket.
His patients did not belong to the class that is exacting
about small things.
" So the feller has taken himself off for good," he
observed, after listening to the doctor's brief statement.
" That's first-rate, couldn't be better for Alves."
Sommers started at the familiar use of the first name.
" She's never had a show. Preston wasn't much ex-
cept as a looker. The first time she came in here I
could see how things stood. But you couldn't budge
her from him — jest like a woman — she loved him."
Sommers must have shown some irritation, for Dr.
Leonard, watching him closely, repeated:
" Yes ! she loved Mm, would have him back, though I
argued with her against it. Well, I'm glad it's settled
up now so clever. Of course I'll be out to the funeral.
Alves ain't got any folks near connected, and Preston —
well, it's no use harboring hard thoughts about dead
folks. They'll have to settle with some one else, won't
they ? "
From the Athenian Building Sommers went to an
ambitious boarding-house that called itself a hotel, where
Miss M'Gann boarded. A dirty negro boy opened the
216 THE WEB OF LIFE
door, and with his duster indicated the reception room.
Miss M'Gann came down, wearing a costume of early
morning relaxation. She listened to the news with the
usual feminine feeling for decorum, compounded of curi-
osity, conventional respect for the dead, and speculation
for the future.
" Poor Mrs. Preston ! I'll go right down and see her.
I've been thinking for a week that I'd take a run on my
bike down that way. But things have been so queer,
you know, that I didn't feel — you understand ? "
The doctor nodded and rose to go. Miss M'Gann's
note was more jarring than the kindly old dentist's.
" Oh, you aren't going ! ". Miss M'Gann protested re-
gretfully. " I want to ask so many questions. I am so
glad to see you. I feel that I know you very well. Mr.
Dresser, your intimate friend, has spoken to me about
you. Such an interesting man, a little erratic, like a
genius, you know."
As Sommers remained stiffly mute, Miss M'Gann's
remarks died away.
" There is nothing more to tell," he said, getting up.
" Of course Mrs. Preston has had a very serious strain,
and I, — her friends, — must see that she has rest."
" Sure," Miss M'Gann broke in warmly ; " now a lot of
us girls are going up to Plum Lake, Michigan, for four
weeks. It would be good for her to be with a nice
party — "
" We will see," the doctor said coldly.
Later Miss M'Gann said to one of her friends :
"Talkin' to him is like rubbing noses with an iceberg.
THE WEB OF LIFE 217
He's one of your regular freeze-you-up, top-notchy east-
" Perhaps it would be well if Mrs. Preston came here
to stay with you for a few days. I will ask her," Som-
mers suggested, as he shook hands.
" Certainly," Miss M'Gann replied warmly, " first-class
house, good society, reasonable rates, and all that."
But the doctor was bowing himself out.
' He's taking some interest in the fair widow's welfare,'
Miss M'Gann commented, as she watched him from be-
hind the hall-door curtain. 'I hope he won't get the
d. t.'s like number one, and live off her. Think she'd
have had warning to wait a reasonable time.'
Meantime Sommers was musing over the "breezy"
and "lively" Miss M'Gann, who, he judged, contrib-
uted much to the gayety of the Keystone Hotel. He
had been hasty in suggesting that Alves might find a
refuge in the Keystone. It would be for a few days,
however, for he planned — he was rather vague about
what he had planned. He wondered if there would be
much of Miss M'Gann in the future, their future, and he
longed to get away, to take Alves and fly.
He was tired; the sun was relentless. But he must
make arrangements to sell his horse as soon as possible,
and to give up his rooms. Por the first time in his life he
was conscious that he wanted to talk with a man, to see
some friend. But of all the young professional men he
had met in Chicago, there was not one he could think of
approaching. On his way to his rooms he passed the
Lake Pront Park, where some companies of troops were
218 THE WEB OF LIFE
encamped. Tents were flapping in the breeze, a Gatling
gun had been placed, and sentries mounted. The bronzed
young soldiers brought in from the plains were lounging
about, watching the boulevard, and peering up at the
massive walls of the Auditorium. The street was choked
with curious spectators, among whom were many strikers.
The crowd gaped and commented.
"They'll shoot," one of the onlookers said almost
proudly. "There ain't no use in foolin' with the reg'-
lars. Those fellows'd pop you or me as soon as a jack-
rabbit or a greasy Injun."
The sinewy sentry shifted his gun and tramped off,
his blue eyes marvelling at the unaccustomed sights of
the great city, all the panoply of the civilization that he
was hired to protect.
The city was under martial law, but it did not seem to
mind it. The soldiers had had a few scuffles with rowdies
at Blue Island and the stock yards. They had chased
the toughs in and out among the long lines of freight
cars, and fired a few shots. Even the newspapers
couldn't magnify the desultory lawlessness into organ-
ized rebellion. It was becoming a matter of the courts
now. The general managers had imported workmen
from the East. The leaders of the strike — especially
Debs and Howard — were giving out more and more
incendiary, hysterical utterances. All workingmen were
to be called out on a general strike ; every man that had
a trade was to take part in a "death struggle." But
Sommers could see the signs of a speedy collapse. In
a few days the strong would master the situation ; then
THE WEB OF LIFE 219
would follow a wrangle in the courts, and the fatal
"black list" would appear. The revenge of the rail-
roads would be long and sure.
Sommers went to his rooms and sought to get some
rest before the time set for the funeral. The driving
west wind, heated as by a furnace in its mad rush over
the parched prairies, fevered rather than cooled him.
His mind began to revolve about the dead man, lying
with heavy, red-lidded eyes in the cottage. Was it, — was
it murder ? He put the thought aside laboriously, only
to be besieged afresh, to wonder, to argue, to protest.
After three hours of this he dressed and took the cable
car for the cottage. He might find some pretext to
examine the dead man again before the others came.
At the cottage gate, however, he overtook the good
dentist, bearing a large florist's box. Miss M'Gann was
already within the little front room, and Alves was talk-
ing in low tones with a sallow youth in a clerical coat.
At the sight of the newcomers the clergyman withdrew
to put on his robes. Dr. Leonard, having surrendered
the pasteboard box to Miss M'Gann, grasped Mrs.
" Alves," he began, and stopped. Even he could feel
that the commonplaces of the occasion were not in order.
" Alves, you know how mighty fond of you I am."
She smiled tranquilly. Her air of calm reserve mysti-
fied the watchful young doctor. The clergyman returned,
followed by Mrs. Ducharme and Anna Svenson. The
Ducharme woman's black dress intensified the pallor of
her flabby face. Her hands twitched nervously over
220 THE WEB OP LIFE
the prayer-book that she held. Subject to apoplexy,
Sommers judged; but his thoughts passed over her as
well as Miss M'Gann, who stood with downcast eyes
ostentatiously close to Mrs. Preston, and the grave old
dentist standing at the foot of the coffin, and the clergy-
man whose young voice had not lost its thrill of awe in
the presence of death. He had no eyes for aught but
the woman, who was bound to him by firmer ties than
those whose dissolution the clergyman was recording.
She stood serene, with head raised above theirs, reveal-
ing a face that sadness had made serious, grave, mature,
but not sad. She displayed no affected sorrow, no ner-
vous tremor, no stress of a reproachful mind. Uncon-
scious of the others, even of the minister's solemn
phrases, she seemed to be revolving truths of her own,
dismissing a problem private to her own heart. To the
man who tried to pierce beneath that calm gaze, the
woman's complete control was terrible.
The minister's grave voice went on, pronouncing the
grave sentences of the service. The ceremonial words
sounded all the more fateful said over this poor body.
The little of life that he had had, — the eating and
drinking in restaurants and hotels, the chaffing and •
trading with his own kind, the crude appeasements of
crude desires, — all these were taken away, and thus
stripped it was easy to see how small was his responsi-
bility in the matter of life. He had crushed and injured
this other human being, his wife, to whom he had come
nearest, just as a dirty hand might soil and crumple a
fine fabric. But she no longer reproached him, if she
THE WEB OF LIFE 221
ever had; she understood the sad complexity of a fate
that had brought into the hand the fabric to be tar-
nished. And what she could accept, others must, the
world must, to whom the Prestons are but annoyances
and removable blemishes.
Sommers felt the deaconlike attitude of the dentist,
the conventional solemnity of the schoolteacher and of
the immobile Swede, the shaking, quavering terror of
Mrs. Ducharme, mumbling to herself the words of the
service. Why should the old woman be so upset, he
wondered. But his vagrant thoughts always came back
to the woman near the coffin, the woman he loved. How
could she summon up such peace ! Was hers one of
those mighty souls that never doubted ? That steadfast
gaze chilled his heart.
" The resurrection of the dead." Her glance fell, and
for one swift moment rested on the dead man. She was
debating those noble words, and denying their hope to
him, to such as were dead in this life. Then once more
her glance rose and fell upon Sommers, and swiftly it
effaced his doubts.
She was so beautiful, a woman in the full tide of
human experience ! And the night before she had been
so simple and tender and passionate. He felt her arms
about his heart, teaching him how to live. This moment,
this careful putting away of the past must be over soon,
in a few hours ; whereupon he and she would cast it out
of their hearts as they would leave this gloomy cottage
and waste marshes. He would not think of the body
there and its death, of anything but her. How exquisite
222 THE WEB OP LIFE
would be this triumph over her baulked, defeated past !
'Alves, Alves,' he murmured in his heart, 'only you who
have suffered can love.' It seemed that an answering
wave of color swept over her pale face.
There was a movement. The service was ended. The
burial was the only thing that remained to be done.
Sommers went to the cemetery with the minister and Dr.
Leonard. He did not wish to be with Alves until they
could be alone. The grave was in the half-finished
cemetery beside the Cottage Grove cable line, among
the newest lots. It was a fit place for Preston, this bit
of sandy prairie in the incomplete city. The man who
came and went from town to town, knowing chiefly the
hotel and the railroad station, might well rest here,
within call of the hoarse locomotives gliding restlessly
to and fro.
As the little company retraced their steps from the
grave, Alves spoke to Sommers for the first time.
" Tou will come back with me ? " she asked.
"Not now," he answered hastily, instinctively. "I
must go back to town. The others will be there. Not
At the gate of the cemetery he fled from the little
company. Dr. Leonard wanted to return to the city with
him, but he shook off the talkative dentist. He must es-
cape all sense of participation in the affair. So he made
the long journey in the cable train, thinking disconnect-
edly in unison with the banging, jolting, grinding of the
car. The panorama of his one short year in Chicago rose
bit by bit into his mind : the hospital, the rich, bizarre
town, the society of thirsty, struggling souls, always rush-
ing madly hither and thither, his love for the woman he
had just left, and this final distracting event.
What if she had doubled the dose of the anodyne?
Probably the fellow was abusive. It might have been
some shameful extremity that had forced upon her this
act in self-defence. But such a situation would have
called for violence, some swift blow. The man had died
in insidious calm. He had counselled it, believed in
it. But not that she — the woman he loved — should be
brave with that desperate courage. Yet it was over now,
beyond sight and thought, and he loved her — yes, loved
her more than if it had not been so.
Once in town, he felt intolerably lonely, as a busy man
who has had his round of little duties in a busy world
soon comes to feel when any jar has put him out of his
224 THE WEB OF LIFE
usual course. As lie sauntered among the strange faces
of the city streets, looking out for a familiar being, he
began to realize how completely he had cut himself off
from the ordinary routine of life. He was as much a
stranger as if he had been dropped into the bustling
crowd for the first time. He had sat in judgment, and
the world would give a fig for his judgments. A ; week
ago he might have taken refuge in a dozen houses.
To-night he stood upon street corners and wistfully eyed
the passing stream.
He walked to the river aimlessly, and then walked
back, examining the blank faces of the people. He spied
through the lowered window of a carriage Brome Porter
and Carson, going in the direction of the Northwestern
station. The carriage skirted the curb near him, but the
occupants were looking the other way. He recalled that
Carson had been induced to leave the famous portrait
on exhibition at the Art Institute. Whenever in the
future he might care to refresh his mind with the vision
of this epitome of success, he had but to drop into the
dusky building on the lake front and have it all — with
the comment of the great artist.
As he moved on his restless course, he thought of
Porter and Carson, of Polot, and then of many others,
whose faces came out of the memories of the past year.
How many of them were " good fellows," human and
kind and strong ! They fought the world's fight, and
fought it fairly. Could more be expected of man ?
Could he be made to curb his passion for gain, to efface
himself, to refuse to take what his strong right hand
THE WEB OP LIFE 225
had the power to grasp? Perhaps the world was ar-
ranged merely to get the best out of strong animals.
He turned into a restaurant, where usually he could
find a dozen people of his acquaintance in the prosperous
world. The place was crowded, but he spied no one
he had ever seen. Evidently the people who knew how
to make themselves comfortable had contrived to get
out of this besieged city. They were at the various
country clubs, at Wheaton, Lake Forest, Lake Geneva,
Oconomowoc, keeping cool, while the general man-
agers, the strikers, and the troops fought out their
differences. The menu was curtailed this evening.
"'Twon't be long, sir," the waiter explained, "'fore
we'll have to kill them cab horses as they done in Paris.
Game and fruit and milk can't be had."
But for the present the food was not of the famine
order, and the noisy crowd eat joyously, as if sure of
enough, somehow, as long as they needed it and had the
money to pay. As Sommers was idling over his coffee,
Swift, a young fellow whom he had seen at the University
Club, a college man connected with one of the papers, sat
down at his table, and chatted busily.
"They telephoned from the stock yards that there
was a big mob down there," he told Sommers. "I
thought I'd go over and see if I couldn't get an extra
story out of it. Want to come along? It's about the
last round of the fight. The managers have got five
thousand new men here already or on the way. That
will be the knock-out," he chatted briskly.
Sommers drifted along to the scene of the riot with the
226 THE "WEB OP LIFE
reporter, happier in finding himself -with some one, no
matter who he might be. Swift talked about the pros-
pects of ending the strike. He regarded it as a reporto-
rial feast, and had natural regrets that such good material
for lurid paragraphs was to be cut off. As they passed
through the Levee, he nodded to the proprietors of the
" places," with ostentatious familiarity. From the Levee
they took an electric car, which was crowded with offi-
cers and deputies bound for the stock yards. The long
thoroughfare lined with rotting wooden houses and squalid
brick saloons was alive with people that swarmed over
the roadbed like insects. A sweltering, fetid air veiled
the distances. Like a filthy kettle, the place stewed in
its heat and dirt. Here lived the men who had engaged
in the foolish fight !
At a cross street the officers dropped off the car, and
Swift and Sommers followed them.
" Where's the fun ? " the reporter asked the sergeant.
The officer pointed languidly toward a tangle of
railroad tracks at one end of the vast enclosure of the
stock yards. They trudged on among the lines of
deserted cars in the fading glare of the July heat. The
broad sides of the packing houses, the lofty chimneys
surrounded by thin grayish clouds, the great warehouses
of this slaughter yard of the world, drew nearer. All at
once a roar burst on their ears, and they came out from
behind a line of cars upon a stretch of track where
a handful of soldiers were engaged in pressing back a
rabble of boys, women, and men. The rabble were
teasing the soldiers, as a mob of boys might tease a cat.
THE WEB OP LIFE 227
Suddenly, as the officers and deputies appeared, some
one hurled a stone. In a moment the air was thick with
missiles, revolver shots followed, and then the handful
of soldiers formed in line with fixed bayonets.
Sommers heard in the midst of all the roar the piteous
bellowing of cattle, penned up in the cars. He saw a
dark form stealing around the end of a car; in a mo-
ment a light spurted out as if a match had been touched
to kerosene; there was a gleam of light, and the stock-
car with its load of cattle was wrapped in flames. The
dark figure disappeared among the cars; Sommers fol-
lowed it. The chase was long and hot. From time to
time the fleeing man dodged behind a car, applied his
torch, and hurried on. At last Sommers overtook him,
kneeling down beside a box car, and pouring oil upon a
bunch of rags. Sommers kicked the can out of reach
and seized the man by the collar. They struggled in the
dark for a few moments. Then the man put his hand to
his pocket, saying, —
" I suppose you're a damned, sneaking deputy."
"Hold on, you drunken fool!" Sommers exclaimed.
" It's lucky for you I am not a deputy."
He could hear the mob as it came down the yards in
the direction of the burning cars.
"If you don't want to be locked up, come on with
The fellow obeyed, and they walked down through the
lane of cars until they reached a fence. Sommers forced
his companion through a gap, and followed him. Then
the man began to run, and at the corner ran into a file
228 THE WEB OF LIFE
of soldiers, who were coming into the yards. Som-
mers turned up the street and walked rapidly in the
direction of the city. The first drops of a thunder-
shower that had been lowering over the city for hours
were falling, and they brought a pleasant coolness into
the sultry atmosphere. That was the end ! The "riot"
would be drowned out in half an hour.
The sense of overwhelming loneliness came back, and
instinctively he turned south in the direction of the cot-
tage. From the loneliness of life, the sultry squalor of
the city, the abortive folly of the mob, he fled to the one
place that was still sweet in all this wilderness of men.
The cottage windows were dark when he arrived an
hour later, but Alves met him at the door.
" I have been waiting for you," she said calmly. " I
knew you would come as soon as you could."
" Didn't Miss M'Ganu stay ? " he asked remorsefully.
" I sent her away with Dr. Leonard. And our old
Ducharme has gone out to one of her doctor's services.
She is getting queerer and queerer, but such a good
soul ! What should I have done without her ! You
sent her to me," she added tenderly.
They sat down by the open window within sound of
the gentle, healing rain. Sommers noticed that Alves
had changed her dress from the black gown she had worn
in the afternoon to a colored summer dress. The room
had been rearranged, and all signs of the afternoon scene
removed. It was as if she willed to obliterate the past
at once. How fast she lived !
THE WEB OF LIFE 229
Her manner was peaceful. She sat resting her head
against a high-backed' chair, and her arms, bare from the
elbow, fell limply by her side. She seemed tired, merely,
and content to rest in the sense of sweet relief.
" Alves," he cried, taking one of her hands and press-
ing the soft flesh in his grip, " I could not stay away. I
meant to — I did not mean to meet you again here — but
it was too lonely, too desolate everywhere."
" Why not here and at once ? " she asked, with a shade
of wonder in her voice. " Haven't we had all the sor-
row here ? And why should we put off our joy ? It is
so great to be happy to the -full for once."
The very words seemed to have a savor for her.
" Are you happy ? " he asked curiously.
"Why not! It's as if all that I could ever dream
while I walked the hot streets had come to me. It has
come so fast that I cannot quite feel it all. Some joy is
standing outside, waiting its turn."
Smilingly she turned her face to his for response.
" What shall you do ? " he asked.
" Do ? . I can't think now. There is so much time to
think of that."
"But you can't stay here ! " he exclaimed, with undue
"Not if you dislike it. But I feel differently. I
found this refuge, and it served me well. I have no
need to leave it."
Sommers let her hand fall from his clasp, and rose to
" You must ! You cannot stay here after — "
230 THE WEB OF LIFE
" As you 'wish. We will go away."
"But until we are married?"
"Married?" she repeated questioningly. "I hadn't
thought of that."
After a moment she said hesitatingly :
" Do we have to be married ? I mean have the cere-
mony, the oath, the rest of it? I have been married.
Now I want — love."
" Why, it is only natural — " the man protested.
" No, no, it is not natural. It may kill all this precious
love. You may come to hate me as I hated him, and then,
then? No," she continued passionately. "Let us not
make a ceremony of this. It would be like the other, and
I should feel it so always. We will have love, just love,
and live so that it makes no difference. You cannot
understand ! "
Soinmers knelt beside her chair.
" Love, love," he repeated. " You shall have it, Alves,
as you will — the delirium of love ! "
" That is right," she whispered, trembling at his touch.
" Talk to me like that. Only more, more. Make my ears
ring with it. Your words are so weak ! "
" There are no words."
"No, there is not one perfect one in all the thousands!"
she uttered, with a low cry. " And they are all alike —
all used and common. But this," — she kissed him,
drawing him closer to her beating heart. " This is you
and all ! "
Thus she taught him the fire of love — so quickly, so
surely! From the vague boyish beatitude had sprung
THE WEB OE LIFE 231
this passion, like the opulent blossom out of the infold-
ing bosom of the plant. Her kiss had dissipated hist
horrid suspicions. Her lips were bond and oath and
That night they escaped the world with its fierce
cross-purposes, its checker-board scheme. The brutality
of human success, the anguish of strife, — what is it when
man is shut within the chamber of his joy ! Outside the
peaceful rain fell ceaselessly, quenching the flame and
the smoke and the passion of the city.
" Next week Monday is the tenth," Alves announced,
glancing at the calendar that hung beside the writing-
" Well ? " Sommers answered. He was preparing to
make the daily trip to the post-office on the other side
of Perota Lake.
"The Chicago schools open this year on the tenth,"
Alves continued slowly.
" "What difference does that make ? "
For reply Alves took from the drawer of the table
the old leather purse that was their bank. The mute
action made Sommers smile, but he opened the purse
and counted the bills. Then he shoved them back into
the purse, and replaced it in the drawer.
" I don't know why I haven't heard about my horse,"
" That would only put the day off another month or
two," Alves answered. " We have had our day of play
— eight long good weeks. The golden-rod has been out
for nearly a month, and the geese have started south.
We saw a flock yesterday, you remember."
THE "WEB OF LIFE 233
" But you aren't going back to the school ! " Sommers
protested. "Not to the Everglade School."
" I got the notices last week. They haven't discharged
me ! Why not ? " she added sanely. " You know that
it will be hard to build up a practice. And Miss M'Gann
wrote me that we could get a good room at the Keystone.
That won't be too far from the school."
"I had thought of returning to Marion, where my
father practised," Sommers suggested. "If we could
only stay here, in this shanty three miles from a biscuit ! "
Alves smiled, and did not argue the point. They
went to the shore where their little flat-bottomed boat
was drawn up. Perota Lake, on which the tiny frame
cottage stood, was a shallow, reedy pond, connecting by
sluggish brooks with a number of other lakes. The
shore on this side of the lake was a tangled thicket ; the
opposite shore rose in a gentle slope to fields of sun-
dried grain. The landscape was rich, peaceful, unevent-
ful, with wide spaces of sun and cloud and large broad
Wisconsin fields. The fierce west wind came cool and
damp from the water. Sommers pulled out of the reedy
shore and headed for a neighboring lake. After rowing
in silence for some time, he rested on his oars.
" Why couldn't we stay here ? That is what I want
to do — to keep out of the city with its horrible clatter
of ambitions, to return to the soil, and live like the
primitive peasant without ambition."
The Wisconsin woman smiled sympathetically. She
had grown strong and firm-fleshed these summer weeks,
sucking vitality from the warm soil.
234 THE WEB OF LIFE
"The land is all owned around here!" she laughed.
"And they use herb doctors or homeopaths. No, we
should starve in the midst of harvests. There is only
one thing to do, to go back where we can earn a bit of
Sommers started to row, but put down the oars again.
" Do you want to go back ? "
"I never think about it. It is so arranged," she
answered simply. "Perhaps it will not be always so."
" Which means that we may be more fortunate than
our neighbors ? "
"I don't know — why think? We have until Mon-
day," and she leaned forward to touch his hand.
Why think ! That is what she had taught him. They
had sloughed off Chicago at the first, and from the day
they arrived at Perota they had sunk into a gentle, solitary
routine. Sommers had been content to smoke his pipe,
to ruminate on nothings, to be idle with no strenuous
summoning of his will. There had been no perplexity,
no revolt, no decision. Even the storm cl their love
subdued itself to a settled warmth, like that of the in-
sistent summer sun. They had little enough to do with,
but they were not aware of their poverty. Alves had
had a long training in economy, and with the innate
capability of the Wisconsin farmer's daughter, adjusted
their little so neatly to their lives that they scarcely
thought of unfulfilled wants.
Now why, the man mused, must they break this ?
Why must they be forced back into a world that they
disliked, and that had no place for them ? If he were
THE WEB OF LIFE 235
as capable as she, there 'would be no need. But society
has discovered a clever way of binding each man to his
bench! While he brooded, Alves watched the gentle
hills, straw-colored with grain, and her eyes grew moist
at the pleasant sight. She glanced at him and smiled —
the comprehending smile of the mothers of men.
" You would not want it always." —
They landed at the end of the lake ; from there it was
a short walk over the dusty country road to the village.
The cross-roads hamlet with its saloons and post-office was
still sleeping in midday lethargy. Alves pointed to the
unpainted, stuffy-looking houses.
" You would not like this."
At the post-office they met a young fellow wearing a
cassock, a strangely incongruous figure in the Wisconsin
village. " Are you coming to vespers ? " the young priest
asked. His brown, heavy face did not accord with the
clerical habit or with the thin clerical voice.
" I think so — for the last time," Alves answered.
" Guy Jones will be there. You remember Guy, Alves ?
He used to be quite sweet on you in the old days when
your brother was at the seminary."
"Yes, I remember Guy," Alves answered hurriedly.
She seemed conscious of Sommers's bored gaze. The
young priest accompanied them along the dusty road.
" Guy'll be glad to see you again. He's become quite
a man out in Painted Post, Nebraska — owns pretty much
the vrhole place — "
" We shall be at vespers," Alves repeated, interrupting
the ialkative young man.
236 THE WEB OF LIFE
When his cassock had disappeared up the dusty road
between the fields of corn, she added,
" And that, too, you would not like, nor Guy Jones."
After beaching the boat in front of the cottage they
walked to the seminary chapel by a little path through
the meadows along the lake, then across a wooded hill
where the birds were singing multitudinously. The
buildings of the Perota Episcopal Seminary occupied the
level plateau of a hill that lay between two lakes. A
broad avenue of elms and maples led to the rude stone
cloisters, one end of which was closed by the chapel.
To Sommers the cheap factory finish of the chapel and
the ostentatious display of ritualism were alike distaste-
ful. The crude fervors of the boy priests were strangely
out of harmony with the environment. But Alves, to
whom the place was full of associations, liked the ser-
vices. As they entered the cloisters, a tiny bell was
jangling, and the students were hurrying into the chapel,
their long cassocks lending a foreign air to the Wisconsin
fields. Only one other person was seated on the benches
beneath the choir, a broad-faced young American, whose
keen black eyes rested upon Alves. She was absorbed
in the service, which was loudly intoned by the young
priest. The candles, the incense, the intoned familiar
words, animated her. Sommers had often wondered at
the powerful influence this service exerted over her. To
the training received here as a child was due, perhaps, that
blind wilfulness of self-sacrifice which had first brought
her to his notice.
"The remission and absolution of sins — " Alves was
THE WEB OF LIFE 237
breathing heavily, her lips murmuring the mighty words
after the priest. Was there a sore hidden in her soul ?
Did she crave some supernatural pardon for a desperate
deed ? The memory of miserable suspicions flashed over
him, and gravely, sadly, he watched the quivering face
by his side. If she sought relief now in the exercise of
her old faith, what would come as the years passed and
heaped up the burden of remorse !
The service ended, and the three lay participants
sauntered into the graveyard outside the west door. The
.setting sun flooded the aisle of the little chapel, even to
the cross on the altar. The tones of the organ rolled out
into the warm afternoon. The young man approached
Alves with extended hand.
"The boys told me I could find you here. It's real
good to see you again. Yes, I'm back to have a look at
the old place. Wouldn't return to stay for worlds. It's
a great place out there, where a man counts for what he
is. Won't you make me acquainted with your husband ? "
Sommers felt instinctively the hesitation in Alves's
manner. She turned to him, however.
"Howard, this is my brother's old friend, Mr. Jones,
— Dr. Sommers."
The young man shook hands with great warmth, and
joined them in their walk home, talking rapidly all the
way. When he left the cottage, he extended a cordial
invitation to Sommers to establish himself in Painted
Post. " We want a good, live, hustling doctor, one thai
is up in all the modern school theories," he explained.
238 THE WEB OP LIFE
After he had gone, they sa\; in silence, -watching
the deepening twilight in the cool woods. The day, the
season, the fair passion of life, seemed to -wane. Like the
intimations of autumn that come in unknown ways, even
in August, surely in September, this accidental visitor
brought the atmosphere of change.
"The struggle begins, then, next Monday," Sommers
remarked at last.
She kissed him for reply.
To love, to forget unpleasant thoughts, to love again,
to refrain from an ignoble strife — alas ! that it could
not be thus for a lifetime.
The Keystone Hotel was in full blast when the doc-
tor and Alves returned from Wisconsin. Miss M'Gann
met them and introduced them to the large, parlor-floor
room she had engaged for, them. The newcomers joined
the household that was taking the air on the stone steps
of the hotel. The step below Miss M'Gann's was held
by a young man who seemed to share with Miss M'Gann
the social leadership of the Keystone. He was with the
Baking Powder Trust, he told Sommers. He was tall
and fair, with reddish hair that massed itself above his
forehead in a shiny curl, and was supplemented by a
waving auburn mustache. His scrupulous dress, in the
fashion of the foppish clerk, gave an air of distinction to
the circle on the steps. Most of this circle were so
average as scarcely to make an impression at first sight,
— a few young women who earned their livelihood in
business offices, a few decayed, middle-aged bachelors, a
group of widows whose incomes fitted the rates of the
Keystone, and several families that had given up the
struggle with maids-of-all-work. One of these latter,
— father, mother, and daughter — had seats at table with
Sommers and Alves. The father, a little, bald-headed
man with the air of a furtive mouse, had nothing to say ;
the mother was a faded blond woman, who shopped
240 THE WEB OF LIEE
every day with the daughter; the daughter, who was
sixteen, had the figure of a woman of twenty, and the
assurance born in hotels and boarding-houses. Her puffy
rounded face, set in a thick roll of blond hair, had the
expression of a precocious doll. When she had sounded
Alves on the subject of silk waists, she relapsed into
silence and stared amiably at the doctor.
Sommers arranged to hang his little celluloid sign,
Howard, Sommers, M.D., Physician and Surgeon, beneath
his window. The proprietor of the Keystone thought
it gave a desirable, professional air to the house. But
Webber, the young man in the Baking Powder Trust,
was sceptical of its commercial value to the doctor.
Certainly the results from its appearance were not ascer-
tainable. Sommers had no patients. The region about
the Keystone was a part of the World's ^air territory,
and had been greatly overbuilt. It had shrunk in these
stagnant months to one-tenth of its possible population.
There was, besides, an army of doctors, at least one for
every five families Sommers judged from the signs.
They were for the most part graduates of little, unknown
medical schools or of drug stores. Lindsay had once said
that this quarter of the city was a nest of charlatans.
The two or three physicians of the regular school had
private hospitals, sanitariums, or other means of improv-
ing their business. Many of the doctors used the drug
stores as offices and places of rendezvous. Their signs
hung, one below another, from a long crane at the
entrances of the stores. It was an impartial, hospitable
method of advertising one's services. There was one
THE WEB OF LIFE 241
such bulletin at the shop on the corner of the neighboring
avenue; the names were unfamiliar and foreign, — Jelly,
Zarnshi, Pasko, Lemenueville. Sommers suspected that
their owners had taken to themselves noms de guerre.
At first Sommers avoided these places, and got the
few drugs he needed at a well-known pharmacy in the
city. He had an idea that matters would improve when
people returned from the country or the seashore. But
these people did not take long vacations. He had had
but one case, the wife of a Swedish janitor in a flat-
building, and he had reason to believe that his services
had not pleased. Every morning, as Alves hurried to
reach the Everglade School, his self-reproach increased.
He hated to think that she was in the same treadmill
in which he had found her. His failure was a matter of
pride, also ; he began to suspect that the people in the
house talked about it. When Webber spoke to him of Dr.
Jelly's success, he felt that the Keystone people had been
making comparisons. They were walking to the railroad
station after breakfast — the clerk on his way south to
the baking powder works ; he, for a daily paper. The
young clerk nodded to a black-whiskered, sallow man,
and said :
"He's Doc. Jelly, and has the biggest practice around
here. He's thick with the drug-store people, — has an
interest in it, I have heard. I haven't seen your sign over
there. Why don't you hang it out ? "
Sommers did not like to say that it was in bad profes-
sional form. After he had left the friendly clerk, how-
ever, he walked over to the drug store and made some
242 THE WEB OP LIFE
inquiries in" a general way. The place was a shameful
pretence of a prescription pharmacy. Cigars, toilet
articles, and an immense soda-water fountain took up
three-fourths of the floor space. A few dusty bottles
were ranged on some varnished oak shelves ; there was
also a little closet at one side, where the blotchy-faced
young clerk retired to compound prescriptions. The
clerk hailed him affably, calling him by his name. He
seemed to know that Sommers used up-town pharma-
cies and had no practice; and he, too, good-naturedly
offered his advice.
" Goin' to settle in the neighborhood ? Shall be glad
to have your slab to add to the collection." He pointed
jocularly to the filigree-work of signs that were pendent
above the door.
"Well, I am not settled yet," Sommers replied, as
easily as he could.
" Mostly homeopaths hereabouts," the clerk went on,
rolling out a handful of cigars for a purchaser to make his
selection. " Makes no difference, I say ; any one with a
diploma is welcome to hang out and try his chances with
the rest. But all these " — he waved the hand which held
the cigars at the signs — " are fine men. They do a
Sommers left the shop ; he was not quite ready to do
a "rushin' business" and to advertise for it from the
corner drug store. As he retreated the clerk looked
at him with a cynical smile. In the clerk's vernacu-
lar, he wasn't " in the push," not " the popular choice."
These days Sommers had so little to do that he could
THE WEB OP LIFE 243
meet Alves at the close of the afternoon session. At
first he had gone to the Everglade School and waited
while the pupils bustled out. He disliked seeing her in
the performance of her petty duties, giving commands and
reproofs. The principal and the teachers stared at them
when they walked away from the school, and he gathered
that his appearance there was embarrassing to Alves.
So they came to have a rendezvous at the rear of a
vacant lot not far from the deserted cottage, which
lifted its ill-favored roof above the scrub oaks. Then
they would traverse the familiar walks in and out of
the deserted streets.
When he told her of his conversation with Webber
and the drug clerk's remarks, she counselled unex-
"Why don't you do it? Miss M'Gann says they all
do it in Chicago, — that is, the doctors who aren't swells."
He smiled sadly at the idea that his holding aloof
from this advertising custom might be set down to his
ambition of being a " swell doctor." The method, how-
ever, seemed entirely proper to Alves, who hadn't the
professional prejudices, and whose experience with the
world had taught her to make the fight in any possible
way, in any vulgar way that custom had pointed out.
" Well, if you want me to," he conceded drearily.
"It isn't a great matter," she replied. "I don't
want you to do anything that you don't feel like
doing. Only," she sighed, "there's so much opposi-
tion to married women's teaching, and we must live
244 THE "WEB OF LIFE
" I'll do it to-morrow," Sommers replied quickly, stung
by the unintentional implication of the speech.
They walked to their favorite haunt on the lake shore,
beneath the crumbling walls of the little convent. During
these hot September days this spot had become the bright-
est place in their lives. They had come there to find
themselves, to. avoid the world. They had talked and
planned, had been silent, had loved, and had rested. To-
day they watched the fiery sun sinking in its bed of shin-
ing dust, and did not speak. Alves was unusually weary,
and he was sad over the decision he had just made, weakly,
it seemed to him. A good deal of the importance of his
revolt against commercial medicine disappeared. Lindsay
tried oily, obsequious means of attracting attention. He
was to hang his sign from a corner store. Some dim
idea of the terrible spectre that haunts the days and
nights of those without capital or position confronted
him. If he had never been rich, he had always the
means to give him time to look about, to select from
a number of opportunities. If he could manage to wait,
even six months, some hospital place might turn up.
His old associates at Philadelphia would have him in
mind. He did not dare to write them of his necessity ;
even his friends would be suspicious of his failure to
gain a foothold in this hospitable, liberal metropolis.
He rose at last to escape these gloomy thoughts. Alves
followed him without a word. He did not offer her his
arm, as he was wont to do when they walked out here
beyond the paths where people came. She respected his
mood, and falling a step behind, followed the winding
THE WEB OF LIFE 245
road that led around the ruined Court of Honor to
the esplanade. As they gained the road by a little foot-
path in the sandy bank, a victoria approached them.
The young woman who occupied it glanced hastily at
Sommers and half bowed, but he had turned back to
give Alves his hand. The carriage drove on past them,
"That lady wishes to speak to you," Alves said.
" I think not," Sommers replied quickly, turning in the
opposite direction. As they walked away the carriage
started, and when Alves looked around it had already
passed over the rough wooden bridge that crossed the
" Was it some one you knew ? " she asked indiffer-
"It was Miss Hitchcock," Sommers replied shortly.
He told her something about the Hitchcoeks. "She
was the first woman I knew in Chicago," he concluded
musingly. Alves looked at him with troubled eyes, and
then was silent. Territories unknown in her experience
were beginning to reveal themselves in the world of this
The next day Sommers applied at the drug store for
permission to hang his sign beneath the others. The
question was referred to Jelly, who seemed to be the
silent partner in the business, and in a few days consent
was given. The little iron sign with gilt letters shone
with startling freshness beneath the larger ones above.
But no immediate results were visible. Sommers dropped
into the store as nonchalantly as he could almost daily,
but there were no calls for him. He met Jelly, who
looked him over coldly, while he lopped over the glass
show-case and smoked a bad cigar. Sommers thought
he detected a malicious grin on the clerk's face when
Jelly questioned him one day about his practice. The
successful physician seemed to sum him up in a final
"What people want hereabouts is a practical, smart
man. They don't take much stock in schools or train-
ing ; it's the man they want."
Leaving the clear impression that the young doctor
was not the man for their money, he grasped his black
bag and lounged out of the door, puffing at his cigar and
spitting as he went. The Keystone, also, did not find
Sommers the man they could rely upon. When the over-
fed daughter of the family at his table was taken ill with
THE WEB OF LIFE 247
a gastric fever, the anxious mamma sent for Jelly. Web-
ber took this occasion to give him advice. Apparently
his case was exciting sympathy in the hotel, — at least
Miss M'Gann and the clerk had consulted about it.
"You don't get acquainted with the folks," Webber
explained. " You go and shut yourself up in your room
after every meal, instead of talking to people and being
sociable like the rest of us. And you haven't formed
any church connection. That helps a man, especially in
your profession. Yon ought to get connected with a
good church, and go to the meetings and church socia-
bles. Join the young people's clubs and make yourself
agreeable. It don't make any difference how much you
know in this world. What people want is a good, open-
hearted fellow, who meets 'em easily and keeps in sight."
'In different circles, different customs,' thought Som-
mers. 'Lindsay frequents dinners, and I must attend
church sociables ! '
" You and Mrs. Sommers hold yourselves apart," Web-
ber went on with friendly warmth, " as if you were too
good for ordinary company. Now I know you don't
really think so at all. As soon as you break the ice, you
will be all right. There was Lemenueville. He started
in here the right way, took to the Presbyterian church,
the fashionable one on Parkside Avenue, and made him-
self agreeable. He's built up a splendid practice, right
there in that congregation ! "
" Are there any good churches left ? " Sommers inquired.
'Well, I shouldn't be bashful about cutting into the
Presbyterian. You're as good as Lemenueville."
248 THE WEB OP LIFE
Decidedly, Sommers thought, this simple society had
its own social habits. If he did not take this well-meant
advice, he must justify himself by his own method. He
made up his mind to go to the next meeting of the med-
ical society. His clothes were a trifle shabby, but as
the meeting was in the evening, he could go in his
evening dress — drop in casually, as it were, from an
evening entertainment. That silly bit of pride, however,
angered him with himself. He went in his shabby every-
day suit. The experience was the most uncomfortable
one he had had. The little groups of young doctors did
not open to him. They had almost forgotten him. Even
his old colleagues at the hospital scarcely recognized
him, and when they did stop to chat after the meeting,
they examined him indifferently, as if they were making
notes. Lindsay had probably spread his story, with
some imaginative details. According to the popular
tale Sommers had been " thrown down " by Miss Hitch-
cock because he had mixed himself up with a married
woman. Then he had been discharged by Lindsay for
the same reason, and had sunk, had run away with the
woman, and had come back to Chicago penniless. The
woman was supporting him, some one said. Enough
of this pretty tale could be read in the bearing of the
men to make Sommers sorry that he had come, and
sorrier that he had come in the hope of bettering his
condition. He slipped out unobserved and walked the
six miles back to the Keystone.
The fight was on; he was placed, as he had wished,
without handicap; he closed his jaws and summoned all
THE WEB OF LIFE 249
his will to take the consequences. The pity was that
he had brought himself to make any concessions to the
obsequiousness of the world. As he passed down Michi-
gan Avenue he overtook a shabby laboring man, who
begged of him. Sommers found out that he was a
striker, a fireman on the Illinois Central, who had lost
his job by being blacklisted after the strike. He had
walked the streets since the middle of July.
"You were a fool," Sommers remarked calmly, "to
think that you and yours could make any impression on
the General Managers' Association. You have had your
lesson, and the next time you find yourself hanging on
to the world, no matter how, don't kick over the traces.
There's a quarter. It's more than I can afford to give,
and I think you're a fool."
The man hesitated.
"I don't want none of your money," he growled at
last. "If you had to work for a living, you silk stock-
ing — "
" Come, don't call me names. I am a fool, too. I am
in the same boat. I'd give a good deal for a job, any
job to earn my living. I didn't say it wasn't natural
.what you did, but it's against the facts, against the
The man stared, took the quarter, and dived into a
" I have lost twenty cents by walking home," Sommers
reported to Alves, " but I have realized — a few facts."
The following day, as Sommers was passing the drug
store, the clerk beckoned to him. A messenger had just
250 THE "WEB OF LIFE
come, asking for immediate help. A woman was very
ill — third house north on Parkside Avenue.
"There's your chance," the clerk grinned. "They're
rich and Jelly's people. He won't be back before two.
Just show Dr. Sommers the way," he added, to the
servant who had brought the message.
Sommers had his doubts about going, for Jelly was an
"eclectic" and probably would refuse to consult with him.
The matter seemed urgent, however, and he followed the
servant. The case, he found on examination, was serious
and at a critical stage. It was an affair of mismanaged
confinement. Jelly, Sommers could see, was brutally
ignorant. The woman, if she survived, would probably be
an invalid for life. He did what he could and remained
in the house, waiting for Jelly, who would be sure to
come. About three the black-whiskered doctor arrived
and hurried upstairs, his sallow face scowling. Sommers
explained what he had done, and suggested that a certain
operation was necessary at once to save matters at all.
Jelly interrupted him.
"See here, young feller, this lis my .case, aniL you're
not wantedj" nor your advice. You can send -your bill
Sommers knew that he should bow and withdraw.
Jelly was within his professional rights, but the man's
brutal ignorance maddened him, and he spoke recklessly.
"A first-year interne could tell you the same thing.
The woman has been nearly killed, if you want to know
the truth. And I don't know that I shall leave you to
complete the job."
THE "WEB OE LIFE 251
"What are you going to do about it?" Jelly asked
Sommers paused. He was clearly in the wrong, pro-
fessionally. There was not a well-trained doctor in
Chicago who would abet him in his act. But it mattered
little; his own desperate situation gave him a kind of
" I shall present the facts to her husband." He found
the husband in the room below and stated the case.
"What I am doing," he concluded, "is entirely un-
professional, but it's the thing I should want any man to
do for me. You needn't take my word, but call up either
Dr. Fitz or Dr. Sloper by telephone, and ask one of them
to come oiit at once. They are the best surgeons in the
city. As to Dr. Jelly, I prefer not to say anything, and
I don't expect you to take my advice."
The husband was anxious and worried. All doctors
seemed to him a game of chance.
" She's always hankered after the Science people ; but
she kind of took to Jelly, and our friends think an awful
sight of him," he remarked doubtfully.
" You are taking tremendous risks," Sommers urged.
"Well, I'll see Jelly."
Sommers waited until the. man returned.
" Well, I guess it isn't so bad as you think. We'll
wait a day or two, I guess. I am obliged to you for
Sommers made' no reply and left the house. The only
result of this affair was that he found it disagreeable to
call at the drug store. Besides, it was useless ; no prac-
252 THE "WEB OE LIFE
tice had come from his assiduous attendance. Finally;
he saw one morning that his modest sign no longer
waved from the pendent ladder. He did not take the
trouble to inquire why it had been removed.
The winter was wearing on, — the slow, penurious
winter of exhaustion after the acute fury of the spring
and summer. These were hard times in earnest, not
with the excitement of failures and bankruptcies, but with
the steady grind of low wages, no employment, and gen-
eral depression. The papers said things would be better
in the fall, when the republican candidates would be
elected. But it was a long time to wait for activity.
Meanwhile the streets down town were filled with hungry
forms, the remnant of the World's Fair mob swelled by
the unemployed strikers. The city was poor, too. The
school funds were inadequate. The usual increase in
salary could not be paid. Instead, the board resolved to
reduce the pay of the grade teachers, who had the lowest
wages. Alves received but forty dollars a month now, and
had been refused a night school for which she had applied.
When Alves timidly suggested that it would be
cheaper for them to rent one of the many empty cot-
tages in the vast region south of the parks, he put her
off. That would be too much like the experience in the
Ninety-first Street cottage, and he fought against the
idea. There were a few dollars still left from the sale
of his horse, his microscope, and other possessions. A
few dollars each week came in from some work he had
found in preparing plates for a professor of anatomy in
THE WEB OE LIEE 253
the new university. Some weeks he could almost pay
his board without drawing from his capital. They would
hang on in this way.
Not that the Keystone Hotel was in itself very attrac-
tive. In spite of Webber's advice, he and Alves found
it hard to mix with the other " guests." After they had
been in the house several months, he fancied that the
people avoided them. The harmless trio left their table,
and in place of them came a succession of transient
boarders. For a time he thought he was oversensi-
tive, inclined to suspect his neighbors of avoiding him.
But one evening Alves came into their room, where he
was working at the anatomy plates, her face flushed
with an unusual distress.
"What reason have they?" Sommers asked, going
directly to the heart of the matter.
"None — unless Miss M'G-ann has been talking care-
lessly. And she knows nothing — "
" No, she knows nothing," the doctor replied, looking
at Alves intently. " And there is nothing to be known."
" We think not ! " she exclaimed. " I am not so sure
that an unpleasant story couldn't be made."
" What do you mean ? " he asked sharply.
"Why, the — my husband's condition — the death, our
going away so quickly afterward. There are elements
there of a good-sized boarding-house scandal."
"Yes, there are elements!" Sommers admitted, put-
ting away his work. "We may as well leave as soon
as we can. You are right; we had better fight it out
254 THE WEB OE LIFE
" Yes, alone" she responded, with a glad note in her
The next afternoon they looked at the cheap, flimsy
cottages they passed in their ■walk with more interest
than ever. The only places they could afford were far
removed from the populous districts where patients live.
They would have to pay for heat, too, and though they
could starve the body, they could not freeze. So the
matter was put off for the present, and they drew into
themselves more and more, leaving the Keystone people
to chatter as they willed.
The great strike was fast being forgotten, as a cause
argued and lost or won as you looked at it. A commis-
sion was holding many meetings these months, and going
over the debris, taking voluminous testimony. It was
said to be prejudiced in favor of the strikers, but the
victors cared little. Its findings in the shape of a report
would lie on the table in the halls of Congress, neither
house being so constituted that it could make any*^3Si-
ical capital by taking the matter up. The Associa-
tion of General Managers had lapsed. It had been the
banded association of power against the banded associa-
tion of labor. It had fought successfully. The issue
was proved: the strike was crushed, with the help of
marshals, city police, and troops. And with it the victors
prophesied was crushed the sympathetic strike forever.
It had cost, to be sure, many millions in all, but it paid.
It was such a tremendous example !
The statistical side of passion was interesting and
ironical. It gave the matter the air of a family row:
the next day the heads of the factions were sitting down
to make the inventory of broken glass, ruined furniture'
and provisions. A principle had been preserved, people
said, talking largely and superficially, but the principle
seemed elusive. The laborers, too, had lost, more heav-
256 THE "WEB OE LIFE
ily in proportion to their ability to bear — millions in
wages, not to reckon the loss of manhood to those who
were blacklisted for participation in the fracas.
The Commission went into the Pullman affair, quite
unwarrantedly, according to the corporation, which was
comfortably out of the mess. And there were minor dis-
putes over the injunctions against Debs, and a languid
■♦stirring of dead bones in the newspapers. Every one was
tired of the affair and willing to let it drop, with its les-
son for this party or that. Sommers, having nothing more
urgent to do, attended the meetings of the Commission
and listened eagerly to get some final truth about the
matter. But it seemed to him that both sides merely
scratched the surface of the argument, and were content
with the superficial "lessons" thereby gained. What
good could come of the hearings ? The country would
get out of its doldrums sooner or later; employment
would be easy to find ; wages would rise, a little ; every
one would have his bellyful ; and then, some years later,
another wave of depression would set in, the bitter strife
would be repeated, both parties unlessoned by this or
any other experience. The world, at least this civiliza-
tion, belonged to the strong ; the poor would remain weak
and foolish and treacherous.
It was whispered about on the first days of the hearing
that an official of the American Eailway Union would
take the stand and make disclosures. He would show
how the strike was finally ended, not by the law and
the sword, but by money. The official's name was
Dresser, Sommers heard, and every day he looked for
THE WEB OF LIEE 257
him to take the stand. But the rumor passed away, and
no " revelations " by Dresser or any one else who knew
the inner facts appeared. Sommers learned them un-
expectedly after the Commission had taken itself to
Washington to prepare its report.
It happened one evening at the Keystone Hotel. He
had come in after dinner and found Miss M'Gann in his
room, calling upon Alv'es. She had brought Dresser with
her. He was well dressed, his hair was cut to a con-
ventional length, and he carried a silk hat — altogether a
different person from the slouchy, beery man who had
grumbled at McNamara and Hills. Sommers's glance
must have said something of this, for Dresser began to
"I've given up agitating — doesn't go, what with the
courts granting injunctions and the railroads throwing
"Do you mean that was why the strike collapsed?"
Sommers asked eagerly.
" Sure ! " Dresser thundered heartily. " I know it.
Do you know where the leaders are ? Well, one of 'em
has got the finest little ranch you ever saw out in Mon-
tana. And another," he winked slowly and put his hand
to his pocket. "They were poor men when the strike
began, and they aren't working now for any dollar and a
I half a day."
i " I don't believe it," Sommers replied promptly. " The
j managers had the affair in hand, anyway."
s Dresser protested loudly, and irritated by the doctor's
ii scepticism began to leak, to tell things he had seen, to
258 THE WEB OF LIFE
show a little of the inside of the labor counsels. He had
evidently seen more than Sommers had believed possible,
and his active, ferreting mind had imagined still more.
The two women listened open-mouthed to his story of
the strike, and feeling where the sympathy lay Dresser
spoke largely to them.
" You seem to have found something to do ? " Sommers
remarked significantly at the close.
" I'm assistant editor of a paper," Dresser explained.
Sommers laughed. " Herr Most's old sheet ? "
" TJie Investor's Monthly."
Sommers shrieked with laughter, and patted Dresser
on the back. "Sammy, you're a great man! I have
never done you justice."
"The management has been changed," Dresser said
gruffly. " They wanted a man of education, not a mere
" Who owns it ? "
" E. G. Carson has the controlling interest."
Sommers relapsed into laughter. "So this is your
ranch in Montana?"
Dresser rose with an offended air.
"Oh! sit down, man. I am complimenting you.
Haven't you a place as office boy, compositor, or some-
thing for a needy friend ? "
"I don't see what you're so funny about, doctor,"
Miss M'Gann expostulated.
" Spoiling the Philistines, you see," Dresser added,
making an effort to chime in with Sommers's irony.
They talked late. Webber, the stylish young clerk,
THE WEB OP LIFE 259
dropped in, and the conversation roamed over the uni-
versal topics of the day, — the hard times, the posi-
tion of the employee in a corporation, etc. The clerk in
the Baking Powder Trust was inclined to philosophical
acceptance of present conditions. Abstractly there might
not be much justice for the pobr, but here in the new
part of the country every man had his chance to be
on top, to become a capitalist. There was the manager
of the B. P. T. He had begun on ten dollars a week,
but he had bided his time, bought stock in the little mill
where he started, and now that the consolidation was
arranged, he was in a fair way to become a rich man.
To be rich, to have put yourself outside the ranks of the
precarious classes — that was the clerk's ambition. Dres-
ser was doubtful whether the good, energetic young clerk
could repeat in these days the experience of the manager
of the B. P. T. The two women took part in the argu-
ment, and finally Alves summed the matter up :
" If we could, all of us would be rich, and then we should
feel like the rich, and want to keep what we could. But
as we have to labor hard for a little joy, it's best to get
the joy, as much as you can, and not fret over the work."
Dresser found the Keystone so agreeable that he came
there to live. The doctor and Alves and Miss M'Gann
with Webber and Dresser had a table to themselves in
the stuffy basement dining room. Miss M'Gann accepted
impartially the advances of both young men, attending
church with one and the theatre with the other. The
five spent many evenings in Sommers's room, discussing
260 THE WEB OF LIFE
aimlessly social questions, while the doctor worked at
the anatomy slides. Dresser's debauch of revolt seemed
to have sobered him. He bought himself many new
clothes, and as time went on, picked up social relations
in different parts of the city. He still talked sentimen-
tal socialism, chiefly for the benefit of Alves, who re-
garded him as an authority on economic questions, and
whose instinctive sympathies were touched by his theo-
ries. As the clothes became more numerous and better
in quality, he talked less about socialism and more about
society. The Investors Monthly interested him : he spoke
of becoming its managing editor, hinting at his influence
with Carson; and when the doctor jeered, Dresser offered
him a position on the paper. Webber was openly envious
of Dresser's prosperity, which he set down to the account
of a superior education that had been denied him. When
Dresser began to mention casually the names of people
whom the Baking Powder clerk had read about in the
newspapers, this envy increased. Dresser's evolution im-
pressed Miss M'Gann also; Sommers noticed that she
was readier to accept Dresser's condescending atten-
tions than the devotion of the plodding clerk. Webber
was simple and vulgar, but he was sincere and good-
hearted. He was striving to get together a little money
for a home. Sommers told Alves that she should influ-
ence Miss M'Gann to accept the clerk, instead of beguil-
ing herself with the words of a talker.
" You are unfair to Sammy," Alves had replied, with
some warmth. " She would do very well to marry him ;
he is her superior."
THE WEB OF LIFE 261
Sommers gave Alves a look that troubled her, and
" Because the fellow is settling into an amiable Philis-
tine ? He will never marry Jane M'Gann ; it would
hurt his prospects."
A few days later Dresser mentioned that he had met
Miss Laura Lindsay, " the daughter of your former part-
ner, I believe."
"My former boss," Sommers corrected, looking at
Alves with an amused smile. He listened in ironical
glee to Dresser's description of little Laura Liadsay.
Dresser thought her "a very advanced young woman,
who had ideas, a wide reader." She had asked him about
Dr. Sommers and Alves.
"You had better not appear too intimate with us,"
Sommers advised. "Her papa doesn't exactly approve
When he had left the room, Sommers added: "He
will marry Laura Lindsay. An ideal match. He won't
remain long in the Keystone, and I am glad of it. The J
converted Philistine is the worst type ! "
Alves held her own opinion. She should be sorry to
lose Dresser from their little circle. She permitted her-
self one remark, — " He is so much of a gentleman."
" A gentleman ! " Sommers exclaimed scornfully. " Are
any of us gentlemen in the American sense ? "
It seemed probable, however, that Sommers and Alves
would be the first to leave the Keystone. Although the
sultry June weather made them think longingly of the
idyllic days at Perota Lake, the journey to Wisconsin
262 THE WEB OF LIFE
was out of the question. Struggle as he might, Sommers
was being forced to realize that they must give up their
modest position in the Keystone. And one day the pro-
prietor hinted broadly that she had other uses for their
room. They had been tolerated up to this point; but
society, even the Keystone form of society, found them
too irregular for permanent acceptance. And now it
was impossible to move away from Chicago. They had
no money for the venture.
A change, even so small a change as from one board-
ing-house to another, is caused by some definite force,
some shock that overcomes the power of inertia. The
eleventh of June Sommers had gone to meet Alves at
their usual rendezvous in the thicket at the rear of JfSlue
Grass Avenue. The sultry afternoon had made him
drowse, and when he awoke Alves was standing over
him, her hands tightening nervously.
" They have dropped you," he said, reading the news
in her face.
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, until they
had plodded down the avenue for several blocks.
" Why did they do it ! " she murmured rebelliously.
"They gave me no reason. It isn't because I teach
badly. It isn't because of the married teachers' talk :
there are hundreds of married women in the schools
who haven't been dismissed."
"Well," Sommers responded soothingly, "I shouldn't
hunt for a rational reason for their act. They have
merely hastened the step we were going to take some
" What shall we do ! " she gasped, overpowered by the
visions her practical mind conjured up. "We could just
get along with my forty dollars, and now — Oh ! I've been
264 THE WEB OE LIFE
like a weight about your neck. I have cut you off from
your world, the big world where successes are made ! "
Her large eyes filled with pleading tears. She was
generously minded to take the burden of their fate upon
"You seem to have been making most of the suc-
cess," he responded lightly. "The big world where
Dresser is succeeding doesn't call me very hard. And
it's a pretty bad thing if a sound-bodied, well-educated
doctor can't support himself and a woman in this world,"
he added more gloomily. "I will, if I have to get a
job over there."
He jerked his head in the direction of the South
Chicago steel works. But the heavens seemed to repel
his boast, for the usual cloud of smoke and flame that
hung night and day above the blast furnaces was re-
placed by a brilliant, hard blue sky. The works were
shut down. They had reached the end of Blue Grass
Avenue at the south line of the park. It was a spot of
semi-sylvan wildness that they were fond of. The
carefully platted avenues and streets were mere lines
in the rough turf. A little runnel of water, half ditch,
half sewer, flowed beside the old plank walk.
They sat down to plan, to contrive in some way to
get a shelter over their heads. From the plank walk
where they sat nothing was visible for blocks around
except a little stucco Grecian temple, one of those
decorative contrivances that served as ticket booths or
soda-water booths at the World's Fair. This one, larger
and more pretentious than its fellows, had been bought
THE WEB OF LIFE 265
by some speculator, wheeled outside the park, and
dumped on a sandy knoll in this empty lot. It had
an ambitious little portico with a cluster of columns.
One of them was torn open, revealing the simple anatomy
of its construction. The temple looked as if it might
contain two rooms of generous size. Strange little prod-
uct of some western architect's remembering pencil, it
brought an air of distant shores and times, standing here
in the waste of the prairie, above the bright blue waters
of the lake !
" That's the place for us ! " Sommers exclaimed, gazing
intently at the time-stained temple. Alves looked at
the building sceptically, for woman-wise she conceived of
only conventional abiding-places. But she followed him
submissively into the little stucco portico, and when
he spoke buoyantly of the possibilities of the place, of
the superb view of park and lake, her worn face gained
color once more. The imitation bronze doors were ajar,
and they made a thorough examination of the interior.
With a few laths, some canvas, and a good cleaning, the
place could be made possible — for the summer.
"That's four months," Sommers remarked. "And
that is a long time for poor people to look ahead."
The same evening they hunted up the owner and
made their terms, and the next day prepared to move
from the Keystone. They had some regrets over leav-
ing the Keystone Hotel. The last month Sommers had
had one or two cases. The episode with Dr. Jelly
had finally redounded to his credit, for the woman had
died at Jelly's private hospital, and the nurse who had
266 THE WEB OP LIFE
overheard the dispute between the two doctors had gos-
siped. The first swallow of success, however, was not
enough to warrant any expenditure for office rent. He
must make some arrangement with a drug store near
the temple, where he could receive calls.
They invited Miss M'Gann, "Webber, and Dresser to
take supper with them their first Sunday in the temple.
Alves had arranged a little kitchen in one corner of the
smaller of the two rooms. This room received the pom-
pous name of " the laboratory " ; the other room — a kind
of hall into which the portico opened — was bedroom and
general living room.
" We will throw open the temple doors," she explained
to Sommers, "and have supper on the portico between
From that point the lake could be seen, a steely blue
line on the horizon. But it rained on Sunday, and the
visitors arrived so bedraggled by the storm that their feast
seemed doomed. Sommers produced a bottle of Scotch
whiskey, and they warmed and cheered themselves. The
Baking Powder clerk grew loquacious first. The Baking
Powder Trust was to be reorganized, he told them, as
soon as good times came. There was to be a new trust,
twice as big as the present one, capitalized for mill-
ions and millions. The chemist of the concern had told
him that Carson was engineering the affair. The stock
of the present company would be worth double, perhaps
three times as much as at present. He confided the fact
that he had put all his savings into the stock of the pres-
ent company at its greatly depressed present value. The
THE WEB OP LIFE 267
company was not paying dividends; he had bought at
forty. His air of financial success, of shrewd specula-
tive insight impressed them all. Miss M'Gann evidently
knew all about this ; she smiled as if the world were a
pretty good place.
Dresser, too, had his boast. He had finally been given
charge of The Investor's Monthly, which had absorbed the
La Salle Street Indicator. The policy of the papers was
to be changed : they were to be conservative, but not crit-
ical, and conducted in the interests of capital which was
building up the country after its financial panic.
"In the prospective return of good times many new
interests will seek public patronage," he explained to the
company. "A new era will dawn — the era of business
combinations, of gigantic cooperative enterprises."
"Vulgarly known as trusts," Sommers interjected. J
" And your paper is going to boom Carson's companies.
Well, well, that's pretty good for Debs's ex-secretary ! "
" You must understand that people of education change
their views," Dresser retorted uncomfortably. " I have
had a long talk with Mr. Carson about the policy of the
paper. He doesn't wish to interfere, not in the least,
merely advises on a general line of policy agreeable to
him and his associates, who, I may say, are very heavily
engaged in Chicago enterprises. We are interested at
present in the traction companies which are seeking
extensions of their franchises."
"He's joined the silk-hat brigade," Webber scoffed.
" The Keystone ain't good enough for him any longer.
He's going north to be within call of his friends."
268 THE WEB OF LIFE
" How is Laura Lindsay ? " Sominers asked.
"I saw her last night, and I met Mr. Brome Porter
and young Polot, too."
" Did you tell 'em where you were going to-night ? "
Sommers asked, rather bitterly.
"Say, Howard," Dresser replied, pushing back his
chair and resting one arm confidentially on the table,
"you must have been a great chump. You had a soft
thing of it at Lindsay's — "
" I suppose Miss Laura has discussed it with you. I
didn't like the set quite as well as you seem to."
" Well, it's no use making enemies, when you can hare
'em for friends just as easily as not," Dresser retorted,
with an air of superior worldly wisdom.
Miss M'Gann had drawn Alves out of the talk among
the men, and they sat by themselves on the lower step
of the temple.
" I saw Dr. Leonard the other day at a meeting of the
Cymbals Society," Miss M'Gann told Alves. " He asked
where you were."
" I hope he'll come to see us."
Miss M'Gann looked at the men and lowered her voice.
" I think he knows what was the reason for dismissing
you. He wouldn't tell me ; but if I see him again, I am
going to get it out of him."
" Why, what did he say ? " Alves asked.
"Nothing much. Only he asked very particularly
about you and the doctor ; about what kind of man the
doctor was, and just when you were married and where."
THE WEB OF LIFE 26 1
Alves moved nervously.
" Where were you married, Alves ? " Miss M'Gann
pursued anxiously. "Here or in Wisconsin? You
were so dreadfully queer about it all."
" We were not married," Alves replied, in a quiet voice,
" at least not in a church, with a ceremony and all that.
I didn't want it, and we didn't think it necessary."
The younger woman gasped.
" Alves ! I'd never think it of you — you two so quiet
and so like ordinary folks ! "
" We are like other people, only we aren't tied to each
other by a halter. He can go when he likes," Alves
retorted. " I want him to go," she added fiercely, " just
as soon as he finds he doesn't love me enough."
" Um," Miss M'Gann answered. " Lucky you haven't
any children. That's where the rub comes."
Alves straightened herself with a little haughtiness.
" It wouldn't make any difference to Mm. He would
do right by them if he had them."
"I don't see how he could, at present," Miss M'Gann
proceeded, with severe logic. "It's all very well so
long as things go easily. But I had rather have the
After a little silence, she continued : " It must have
had something to do with that, I guess, your being
dropped. Did any one know ? "
"I never said anything about it," Alves replied
coldly. She would have liked to add an entreaty, for
his sake, that Miss M'Gann keep this secret. But her
pride prevented her.
270 THE "WEB OF LIFE
"That Ducharme woman must have been, talking,"
Miss M'Gann proceeded acutely. "I saw her around
last year, looking seedy, as if she drank."
"Possibly," Aires assented, "though she didn't know
" Well, my advice to you is to make that right just as
soon as ever you can. He's willing ? "
" I should never let him," Alves exclaimed vehemently;
" least of all now ! "
" Well, I suppose folks must live their own way. But
you don't catch me taking a man in that easy fashion, so
that he can get out when he wants to."
Alves tried to change the subject, but her admission
had so startled her friend that the usual gossip was
impossible. When the visitors rose to go, Sommers
proposed showing them the way back by a wagon road
that led to the improved part of the park, across
the deserted Court of Honor. He and Alves accom-
panied them as far as the northern limits of the park.
The rain clouds were gone, and a cold, clear sky had
taken their place. On their return along the esplanade,
beside the lake Sommers chatted in an easy frame of
"I guess Webber will get Miss M'Gann, and I am
glad of it. Dresser wouldn't do anything more than fool
with her. He will get on now; those promoters and
capitalists are finding him a clever tool. They will keep
him steady. It isn't the fear of the Lord that will keep
men like Dresser in line ; it's the fear of their neighbors'
opinions and of an empty stomach ! "
THE WEB OP LIFE 271
"Don't you — wish you had a chance like his?"
Alves asked timidly.
The young doctor laughed aloud.
" You don't know me yet. It isn't that I don't want
to. It's because I can't — no glory to me. But, Alves,
we are all right. I can get enough in one way or
another to keep the temple over our heads, and I can
work now. I have something in view ; it won't be just
chasing about the streets."
This reference to his own work both pleased and
saddened her. The biologist, who had befriended him
before, had given him some work in his laboratory. The
work was not well paid, but the association with the stu-
dents, which aroused his intellectual appetites, had given
him a new spur. What saddened her was that it was all
entirely beyond her sphere of influence, of usefulness to
him.. Living, as they should, in an almost savage isola-
tion, she dreaded his absorption in anything apart from
her. There were other reliefs, consolations, and hopes
than those she held. He was slipping away into a silent
region — man's peculiar world — of thought and dream
and speculation, an intangible, ideal, remote, unloving
world. Some day she would knock at his heart and
find it occupied.
She leaned heavily upon his arm, loath to have his
footsteps so firm, his head so erect, his eyes so far away,
his voice so silent.
" You are not" sorry," she murmured, ashamed of iter-
ating this foolish question, that demanded one answer
— an answer never wholly satisfying.
272 THE "WEB OP LIFE
" For what ? " he asked, interrupting his thought and
glancing out into the black waters.
"For me — for all this fight for life alone away from
the people who are succeeding, for grinding along unrec-
ognized — "
He stopped and kissed her gently, striving to quiet
her excited mood.
" For if you did, I would put myself there, in the water
beside the piers," she cried.
He smiled at her passionate threat, as at the words
of an emotional child. Underneath his gentleness, his
kindness, his loving ways, she felt this trace of scepti-
cism. He did not bother his head with what was begin-
ning to wring her soul. In a few minutes she spoke again :
" Miss M'G-ann thinks Dr. Leonard knows why I was
dismissed. Mrs. Ducharme, she said, had been hanging
about the Everglade School district. I remember hav-
ing seen her several times."
Sommers dropped her arm and strode forward.
" What did she know ? " he asked harshly.
" I don't see how she could know anything except sus-
picions. You know she was queer and a great talker."
Sommers's face worked. He was about to speak when
Alves went on.
" I told Jane we had never been married ; she asked
me where we were married. I suppose I ought not to
have told her. I didn't want to."
"It is of no importance," Sommers answered. "It's
our own business, anyway; but it makes no difference
as we live now whether she knows it or not."
THE WEB OF LIFE 273
"I am glad you feel so," Alves replied with relief.
Then in a few moments she added, "I was afraid she
might tell people ; it might get to your old friends."
Sommers replied in the same even tone,
" Well ? and what can they do about it ? "
" I wonder what a woman like Miss Hitchcock thinks
about such matters, — about us, if she knew."
"She would not think. She would avoid the matter
as she would a case of drunkenness."
The arm within his trembled. She said nothing more
until they reached the little portico. She paused there,
leaning against one of the crumbling columns, looking
out into the night. From the distance beyond the great
pier that stretched into the lake came the red glare of
Sommers had gone in and was preparing the room for
the night. She could hear him whistle as he walked to
and fro, carrying out dishes, arranging the chairs and
tables. He maintained an even mood, took the accidents
of his fate as calmly as one could, and was always gentle.
He had some well of happiness hidden to her. She went
in, took off her cloak, and prepared to undress. His
clothes, the nicety he preserved about personal matters,
had taught her much of him. Her clothes had always
been common, of the wholesale world ; he had had his
luxuries, his refinements, his individual tastes. Gradu-
ally, as his more expensive clothes had worn out, he had
replaced them with machine-made articles of cheap man-
ufacture. His belongings were like hers now. She was
bringing him a little closer to her in such ways, — food
274 THE "WEB OF LIFE
and lodging and raiment. But not in thought and being.
Behind those deep-set eyes passed a world, of thought, of
conjecture and theory and belief, that rarely expressed
She let down her hair and began to take off her plain,
unlovely clothes. Thus she approached the common'
human basis, the nakedness and simplicity of life. Her
eyes lingered thoughtfully on her body ; she touched her-
self as she unbuttoned, unlaced, cast aside the armor of
convention and daily life.
" Howard ! " she cried imperiously. He stopped his
whistling and looked at her and smiled.
"Do you like me, Howard?" She blushed at the
childishness of her eager question. But she demanded the
expected answer with the insistence of unsatisfied love.
And when he failed to reply at the moment, surprised by
her mood, she knelt by his chair and grasped his knees.
"Isn't it ail that you want, just the temple and me?
Am I not enough to make up for the world and success
and pleasure ? I can make you love, and when you love
you do not think."
She rose and faced him with gleaming eyes, stretching
out her bare arms, deploying her whole woman's strength
and beauty in mute appeal.
" Why do you ask ? " he demanded, troubled.
" O Howard, you do not feel the mist that creeps in
between us, though we are close together. Sometimes I
think you are farther away than even in the old times,
when I first saw you at the hospital You think, think,
and I can't get at your thought. Why is it so ? "
THE WEB OP LIFE 275
He yielded, to her entreating arms and eyes, as lie had
so often before in like moments, when the need to. put
aside the consciousness of existence, of the world as it
appears, had come to one of them or both. Yet it seemed
that this love was like some potent spirit, whose irresisti-
ble power waned, sank, each time demanding a larger,
draught of joy, a more delirious tension of the nerves.
"Nothing makes any difference," he answered. "I
was born and lived for this."
She had charmed the evil mood, and for the time her
heart was satisfied.
But when she lay by his side at night her arm stole
about his, as if to clutch him, fearful lest in the empty
reaches of sleep he might escape, lest his errant man's
thoughts and desires might abandon her for the usual
avenues of life. Long after he had fallen into the regu-
lar sleep of night, she lay awake by his side, her eyes
glittering with passion and defeat. Even in these limits
of life, when the whole world was banned, it seemed
impossible to hold undisturbed one's joy. In the loneli-
est island of the human sea it would be thus — division
and ultimate isolation.
The summer burned itself out, and the autumn winds
pierced the rotten staff walls of the temple. They were
no nearer to moving into better quarters than they had
been in the spring. The days had come when there was
little food, and the last precarious dollar had been spent.
They lived on the edge of defeat, and such an existence
to earnest people is sombre.
Finally the tide turned. The manager of a large manu-
facturing plant in Burnside, one of the little factory ham-
lets south of the city, asked Sommers to take charge of
an epidemic of typhoid that had broken out among the
operatives. The regular physician of the corporation had
proved incompetent, and the annual visitation of the dis-
ease threatened to be unprecedented. Sommers spent
his days and nights in Burnside for several weeks.
When he had time to think, he wondered why the man-
ager employed him. If the Hitchcocks had been in the
city, he should have suspected that they had a hand in
the matter. But he remembered having seen in a news-
paper some months before that the Hitchcocks were
leaving for Europe. He did not trouble himself greatly,
however, over the source of the gift, thankful enough for
the respite, and for the chance of renewed activity. "WhSn*
the time for settlement came, the manager liberally ih-
THE WEB OP LIFE 277
creased the amount of the doctor's modest bill. The
check for three hundred dollars seemed a very substan-
tial bulwark against distress, and the promise of the com-
pany's medical work after the new year was even more
hopeful. Alves was eager to move from the dilapidated
temple to an apartment where Sommers could have a
suitable office. But Sommers objected, partly from pru-
dential reasons, partly from fear that unpleasant things
might happen to Alves, should they come again where
people could talk. And then, to Alves's perplexity/ he
developed strange ideas about money getting.
" The physician should receive the very minimum of
pay possible for his existence," he told her once, when
she talked of the increase in his income. " He works in
the dark, and he is in luck if he happens to do any good.
In waging his battle with mysterious natui'e, he only
unfits himself by seeking gain. In the same way, to a
lesser degree, the law and the ministry should not be
.gainful professions. When the question of personal gain
and advancement comes in, the frail human being suc-
cumbs to selfishness, and then to error. Like the artist,
the doctor, the lawyer, the clergyman, the teacher should
be content to minister to human needs. The professions
should be great monastic orders, reserved for those who
have the strength to renounce ease and luxury and
The only tangible comfort that Alves derived from
this unusually didactic speech was the assurance that he
■ would not be drawn away from her. She bowed to his
conception, and sought to help him. While he was
278 THE WEB OF LIFE
attending the cases in Burnside, she did some work as
nurse. Beginning casually to help on an urgent case,
she went on to other cases, training herself, learning to
take his place wherever she could. She thought to come
closer to him in this way, but she suspected that he
understood her motive, that her work did not seem quite
sincere to him. She was looking for payment in love.
When she was not engaged in nursing, she was more
often alone than she had been the year before. The
Keystone people visited the temple rarely. Miss M'Gann
seemed always a little constrained, when Alves met her,
and Dresser was living on the North Side. One Decem-
ber morning, when Alves was alone, she noticed a car-
riage coming slowly down the unfinished avenue. It
stopped a little distance from the temple, and a woman
got out. After giving the coachman an order, she took
the foot-path that Alves and Sommers had worn. Alves
came out to the portico to meet the stranger, who hastened
her leisurely pace on catching sight of a person in the
temple. At the foot of the rickety steps the stranger
" You are Miss Hitchcock," Alves said quickly.
" Won't you come in ? "
" How did you know ! " Miss Hitchcock exclaimed,
and added without waiting for a reply : " Let's sit here
on the steps — the sun is so warm and nice. I've been a
long time in coming to see you," her voice rippled on
cordially, while Alves watched her. "But we've been
out of the city so much of the time, — California, North
Carolina, and abroad."
THE WEB OF LIFE 279
Alves nodded. The young woman's ease of manner
and luxurious dress intimidated hev. She sat down on
the step above Miss Hitchcock, and she had the air of
examining the other woman without committing herself.
"But, how did you know me?" Miss Hitchcock ex-
claimed, with a little laugh of satisfaction.
" Dr. Sommers has told me about you."
" Did he ! He didn't tell any one of his marriage."
The bluntness of the speech was relieved by the con-
fidential manner in which Miss Hitchcock leaned forward
to the other woman.
" It was sudden," Alves replied coolly.
" I know ! But we, my father and I, had a right to
feel hurt. We knew him so well, and we should have
liked to know you."
" Thank you."
"But we had no cards — you disappeared — hid your-
selves — and you turn up in this unique place I It's only
by chance that I've found you now."
"We didn't send out cards. We are such simple
people that we don't expect — "
Miss Hitchcock blushed at the challenge, and inter-
rupted to save the speech from its final ungraciousness.
"Of course, but we are different. We have always
been so interested in Dr. Sommers. He was such a
Alves made no effort to reply. She resented Miss
Hitchcock's efforts to reach her, and withdrew into her
shell. This young woman with her attendant brougham
belonged to the world that she liked to feel Sommers
280 THE WEB OP LIFE
had renounced for her sake. She disliked the world for
" Is he doing well ? " Miss Hitchcock asked bluntly.
" He was so brilliant in his studies and at the hospital !
I was sorry that he left, that he felt he ought to start for
himself. He had a good many theories and ideals. We
didn't agree," — she smiled winningly at the grave
woman, " but I have had time to understand somewhat
— only I couldn't, I can't believe that my father and his
friends are all wrong." Miss Hitchcock rushed on heed-
lessly, to Alves's perplexity; she seemed desperately
eager to establish some kind of possible understanding
between them. But this cold, mature woman, in her
plain dress, repelled her. She could not prevent herself
from thinking thoughts that were unworthy of her.
Why had he done it ! What had this woman to give
that the women of her set could not equal and more
than equal ? The atmosphere of her brougham, of her
costly gown and pretty hat contrasted harshly with
the dingy temple and dead weeds of the waste land.
Dr. Lindsay had said much, and insinuated more, about
the entanglement that had ruined the promising young
surgeon. Was it this woman's sensual power — she
rejected the idea on the instant. Dr. Sommers was not
that kind, in spite of anything that Lindsay might say.
She could not understand it — his devotion to this
woman, his giving up his chances. It was all a part of
some scheme beyond her power to grasp fully.
" I want to know you," she said at last, after an awk-
ward silence. " Won't you let me ? "
THE WEB OF LIFE 281
Alves leaned slightly forward, and spoke slowly.
" You are very kind, but I don't see any good in it.
We don't belong to your world, and you would show him
all the time what he has to get along without. Not that
he wouldn't do it again," she added proudly, noticing the
girl's lowered gaze. " I don't think that he would like
to have me say that he had given up anything. But
he's got his way to make, here, and it is harder work
than you imagine."
"I don't see, then, why you refuse to let me — his
old friends — help him." Miss Hitchcock spoke impa-
tiently. She was beginning to feel angry with this
impassive woman, who was probably ignorant of the
havoc she had done.
" He doesn't want any help ! " Alves retorted. " We
are not starving now. I can help him. I will help him
and be enough for him. He gave it up for me."
" Can you get him friends and practice ? " Miss
Hitchcock asked sharply. "Can you make it possible
for him to do the best work, and stand high in his pro-
fession ? Will you help him to the place where he can
make the most of himself, and not sell his soul for
bread ? "
These questions fell like taunts upon the silent woman.
She seemed to feel beneath them the boast, 'I could
have done all that, and much more!' These words
were like the rest of this fashionable young woman —
her carriage, her clothes, her big house, her freshness of
person — all that she did not have. Alves retorted :
"He won't let any one push him, I know. What he
282 THE WEB OF LIFE
wants, he will be glad to get by himself. And," she
added passionately, " I will help him. If I stand in his
way, — and he can't do 'what he wants to do, — I will
take myself out of his life."
Boast for boast, and the older woman's passionate
words seemed to ring the stronger. They looked at
each other defiantly. At last Miss Hitchcock pulled
her wrap about her, and rose to go. A final wave of
regret, of yearning not to be thrust out in this way from
these lives made her say :
"I am sorry you couldn't have let .me be a little
friendly. I wanted to have you to dinner," — she
smiled at the dull practicality of her idea; "but I
suppose you won't come."
" He may do as he likes," Alves said, in a more con-
" But he can't ! " the girl smiled back good-humoredly.
" One doesn't go to dinner without one's wife, especially
when one's wife doesn't like the hostess."
Alves laughed at the frank speech. She might have
liked this eager, fresh young woman, who took things
with such dash and buoyancy, if she could have known
her on even terms. As they stood facing each other, a
challenge on Miss Hitchcock's face, Alves noticed the
doctor's figure in the road beyond.
"I think that is Dr. Sommers coming. He can answer
your question for himself."
Sommers was approaching from Blue Grass Avenue;
his eyes were turned in the direction of the lake, so that
he did not see the women on the steps of the temple
THE WEB OP LIFE 283
until Miss Hitchcock turned and held out her hand.
Then he started, perceptibly enough to make Alves's
lips tighten once more.
"I have been calling on your wife," Miss Hitchcock
explained, talking fast. " But she doesn't like me, won't
ask me to come again."
" We shall be very glad to see you," Alves interposed
quickly. " But I make no calls."
Miss Hitchcock declined to sit down, and Sommers
accompanied her to the waiting carriage. Alves watched
them. Miss Hitchcock seemed to be talking very fast,
and her head was turned toward his face.
Miss Hitchcock was answering Sommers's inquiries
about Colonel and Mrs. Hitchcock: The latter had died
over a year ago, and Colonel Hitchcock had been in poor
"He has some bitter disappointments," Miss Hitch-
cock said gravely. "His useful, honorable, unselfish
life is closing sadly. We have travelled a good deal;
we have just come back from Algiers. It is good to
be back in Chicago ! "
"I have noticed that the Chicagoan repeats that
formula, no matter how much he roams. He seems to
travel merely to experience the bliss of returning to the
" It isn't a factory to me. It is home," she replied
"So it is to us, now. We are earning our right to
stay within its gates."
" Are things — going better ? " Miss Hitchcock asked
284 THE WEB OF LIFE
hesitatingly. She scanned the doctor's face, as if to
read in the grave lines the record of the year.
" We are alive and clothed," he replied tranquilly.
" What a frightful way to put it ! "
"The lowest terms — and not very different from
others." His eye rested upon the glossy horses and the
" No ! " Miss Hitchcock answered dispiritedly. " But
I won't think of it that way. I am coming to see you
again, if I may ? "
"You were very good to look us up," he answered
They lingered, speaking slowly, as if loath to part
in this superficial manner. He told her of his employ-
ment in Burnside, and remarked slowly,
" I wonder who could have put the manager on my
" I wonder," she repeated, looking past him.
"You see I didn't start quite at the scratch," he
added, his face relaxing into a smile.
" I shouldn't quarrel about that handicap."
"No, I am not as ready to quarrel as I once was."
Her face had the eager expression of interest and
vitality that he remembered. She seemed to have
something more that she wanted to say, but she simply
held out her hand, with a warm " good-by," and stepped
into the carriage.
When he returned to the temple, Alves was busy
getting their dinner. She paused, .and glancing at Som-
THE WEB OE LIFE 285
"How beautiful she is ! "
"She is a good woman. She ought to marry," he
" Why ? "
" Because she is so sound and fine at bottom."
" You were glad to see her again."
" Did I show it unduly ? "
" I knew you were, and she knows it."
When he looked at her a few moments later, her eyes
"Pshaw! pshaw!" Dr. Leonard exclaimed, in a
coaxing tone. "I'm disappointed, Alves. 'Tain't
natural. I mean to see him, and show him what harm'
"No, no, don't speak of it again, at least to him,"
Alves pleaded anxiously. " He would do that, or any-
thing, if he thought I wanted it. I don't want it, I tell
you; I'm happier as it is."
" S'pose there are children? " the old dentist asked, in
a convincing tone.
"I hope there never will be."
" Now, that shows how wrong you are, how fussed up
— why, what's marriage for if it ain't for children? I
guess I've had as hard a struggle as most to keep head to
the tide, but I couldn't spare the children. Now, I'll
get our minister to do the job. You and the doctor
come out next Sunday to my house, and after the even-
ing service we'll slip over to the church and make it all
Alves smiled at the earnest kindness of the old dentist,
but shook her head firmly. Dr. Leonard gathered up
his overcoat and silk hat, but seemed loath to go. He
peered out of the windows that Sommers had put into
the big doors of the temple.
THE WEB OF LIFE 287
"It's like your living out here in this ramshackle
old chicken-coop, when you might have a tidy flat on
Paulina Street; and the doctor could have a desk in my
office next door to his old boss." Dr. Leonard spoke
testily, and Alves laid her hand soothingly on his arm.
"I guess -we aren't made to be like other people."
" You won't have any happiness so long as you defy
" Did I have any when I lived according to it ? "
The dentist, at the end of his arguments, turned the
"Some day, Alves, he will reproach you justly for
what you've done."
"I shall be dead before that day."
"I've no patience with you, talking of death and
hoping you'll never have children."
The old dentist stumbled out into the portico, and,
without further words, trudged down the road. Alves
lingered in the open door in spite of the intense cold,
and watched him, with an unwonted feeling of loneliness.
The few people that touched her solitary life seemed to
draw back, repelled by something unusual, unsafe in her
and her situation. Why was she so obstinate about this
trivial matter of a ceremony that counted for so much
with most people? At first her refusal had been a
sentiment, merely, an instinctive, unreasoned decision.
Now, however, there were stronger causes: she would
not consent to tie his hands, to make him realize the
irrevoeableness of his step. Time might come when . . .
And why had she so stoutly denied a wish for chil-
288 THE WEB OF LIFE
dren? These days her thoughts went back often to her
dead child — the child of the man she had married.
Preston's share in the child was so unimportant now !
To the mother belonged the child. Perhaps it was meant
to be so in order that something might come to fill the
empty places of a woman's heart. If she had children,
what difference would that ignorance of the man she
loved, that division from him, make? The man had his
work, his ideas — the children of his soul; and the
woman had the children of her body. Each went his
way and worked his life into the fabric of the world.
f Love ! Love was but an episode, an accident of the few
| blossoming years of life. To woman there was the
'-- gift of children, and to man the gift of labor. She
wondered if this feeling would increase as the years
passed. Would she think more and more of the child
she had had, the other man's child? And less of him
whom she loved?
" Trying to make an icicle of yourself? " a jovial voice
called out ; the next moment Dresser came up the steps.
The portico shook as he stamped his feet. He wore a
fur-lined coat, and carried a pair of skates. His face,
which had grown perceptibly fuller since his connection
with The Investor's Monthly, was red with cold.
" The ice on the lake is first-rate, Alves, and I skated
up the shore to see if I could get you for a spin." *
"I am glad you came," Alves said, with new life.
" I was kind of lonely and blue, and the doctor is off on
a case the other side of nowhere."
" Just the time, " responded Dresser, who seemed' to
THE WEB OF LIFE 289
have the good luck at present of making "right con-
They skated down the lagoon to the blackened Court
of Honor, through this little pond, around the dismantled
figure of Chicago, out into the open lake beside the long
pier. The ice was black and without a scratch. They
dashed on toward the centre of the lake, Alves laughing
in pure exultation over the sport. They had left far
behind the few skaters that had ventured beyond the
lagoon, and taking hands they flew for a mile down the
shore. Then Alves proposed that they should go back
to the temple for a cup of tea. The wind was up,
beating around the long, black pier behind them, and
when they turned, they caught it full in the face.
Alves, excited by the tussle, bent to the task with a
powerful swing; Dresser skated fast behind her. As
they neared the long pier, instead of turning in toward
the esplanade, Alves struck out into the lake to round the
obstruction and enter the yacht pool beyond. Dresser
kept the pace with difficulty. As she neared the end
of the pier, she gave a little cry ; Dresser saw her leap,
then heard a warning shout,
"Look out — the pool!" As he scuttled away from
the oily water where the drifts opened, he saw Alves
clinging to the rim of ice on the piles.
"l3on.'t be afraid," she called back. "I can crawl
under the pier and get up on the cross-bars. Go on to
While he protested she vanished, and in a minute he
saw her reappear above, waving her hand to him. She
290 THE WEB OE LIFE
took off her skates leisurely, wrung out her skirt, and
"walked along the pier. He skated up as close as he
could, stammering his admiration and fears. When he
reached the shore, she was already running down the
path to the temple. He followed more leisurely, and
found her, in a dry skirt, stirring up the fire in the stove.
"That was a close call," he gasped admiringly,
throwing his skates into the corner.
"Wasn't it fine?" she laughed. "I'd like days and
days of that — flying ahead, with a hurricane behind."
She shovelled some coal into the ugly little stove, and
gayly set about preparing tea. Dresser had never
seen her so strong and light-hearted as she was this
afternoon. They made tea and toasted crackers, chaff-
ing each other and chattering like boy and girl. After
their meal Dresser lit his pipe and crouched down by
the warm stove.
"I wish you were like this oftener," he murmured
admiringly. " Gay and ready for anything ! "
" I don't believe I shall be as happy as this for weeks.
"It comes over me sometimes."
She leaned forward, her face already subdued with
"It makes you beautiful to be happy," Dresser said,
with clumsy self-consciousness.
Alves's eyes responded quickly, and she leaned a little
farther forward, pondering the words. Suddenly Dresser
took her hand, and then locked her in his arms. Even
in the roughness of his passion, he could not fail to
see her white face. She struggled in his grasp without
THE WEB OP LIFE 291
speaking, as if knowing that words would be useless.
And Dresser, too embarrassed by his act to speak, dragged
her closer to him.
" Don't touch me, " she gasped ; " what have I done ! "
"I will kiss you," the man cried. " What difference
is it, anyway? "
He wrested her from the low chair, and she fell with-
out power to save herself, to struggle further. The room
was swimming before her eyes, and Dresser had his arms
about her. Then the door opened, and she. saw Sommers
enter. Her eyes filled with tears.
" What is the matter ? " he exclaimed, looking sharply
about at the upset chair, the prostrate form, and Dres-
ser's red face.
" She has fallen — fainted, " Dresser stammered.
Alves seemed to acquiesce for a moment, and her head
sank back; then she opened her eyes and looked at
"No, Howard. Help me."
Sommers raised her, his face much troubled. While
he held her, she spoke brokenly, trying to hide her face,
" You must know. He kissed me. I don't know why.
Make him go away. Howard, what am I?"
Sommers dropped his arm from Alves and started
toward Dresser, who was edging away.
"What is this?"
His dictatorial tone made Dresser pause.
"She told you. I was a fool. I tried to kiss her."
Sommers took him by the arm without a word.
" Yes, I am going. Don't make a row about it. You
292 THE "WEB OF LIFE
needn't get into a state about it. She isn't Mrs.
Sommers, you know ! "
" Oh ! " Alves groaned, closing her eyes again. " How
can he say that ! "
Sommers dropped his arm.
" Who told you that Alves was not my wife? " he asked
" Every one knows it. Lindsay has the whole story.
You — "
"Don't say anything more," Sommers interrupted
sternly. "You are too nasty to kill."
His tone was quiet. He seemed to be questioning
himself what he should do. Finally, opening the door,
he grasped Dresser by the neck and flung him into the
sand outside. Then he closed the door and turned to
Alves. She was crouching before the fire, sobbing to
herself. He stroked her hair soothingly.
"We must conform," he said at last.
She shook her head. " It is too late to stop that talk.
I was wrong to care about not having the ceremony, and
it was foolish to tell Jane. But — to have him think,
his touch — how can you ever kiss me again! You
let him go," she added, her passion flaming up; "I
would have killed him. Why didn't you let me kill
"That is savage," he replied sadly. "What good is
it to answer brutality by crime ? You cannot save your
skirts from the dirt," he concluded softly to himself. " I
knew the fellow was bad; I knew it eight years ago,
when he took a Swiss girl to Augsburg and left her
THE "WEB OF LIFE 293
there. But I said to myself then that, like many men,
he had his moods of the beast which he could not con-
trol, and thought no more about it. Now his mood of
the beast touches me. Society keeps such men in check ;
he will marry Laura Lindsay and make an excellent,
cringing husband, waiting for Lindsay's savings. You
see," he ended, turning to his work-table, "I suppose he
felt released from the bonds of society by the way we
live, by — it all."
Alves rose and walked to and fro.
"Do you think," she asked at last, "that anything
I could have done — he could have felt that I — en-
"I don't, think anything more about it," Sommers
answered, closing his lips firmly. "It is part of the
mire; we must avert our eyes, Alves."
But in spite of his mild, even gentle way of dealing
with the affair, he could not fall into his routine of
work. He got up from the table and, finding the room
too warm, threw open a window to let the clear, cold
winter air rush over his face. He stood there a long
time, plunged in thought, while Alves waited for him
to come back to her. At last she could bear it no
longer. She crept over to his side and placed her head
close to his.
"I wish you would even hate me, would be angry,
would feel it," she whispered. "Will you ever care to
kiss me again? "
"Foolish woman !" Sommers answered, taking her face
in his hands. " Why should that make any difference to
294 THE WEB OP LIFE
me, any more than if a drunken brute had struck
"But it does," she asserted sadly. "Everything does,
Howard — all the past: that I let my husband touch me ;
that I had to live "with him ; that you had to know it,
him — ■ it all makes, oh, such a difference ! " •
"No," he responded, in a high voice. "By God, it
makes no difference — only one thing." He paused.
Then with a wrench he went on, "Alves, did you —
did you — " But he could not make himself utter the
words, and before he had mastered his hesitation she
had broken in impetuously :
" No, I am right ; the great happiness that I wanted
to give you must come from the spirit and body of a
woman untouched by the evil of living in the world.
The soiled people like me should not — "
He closed her lips with a kiss.
"Don't blaspheme our life," he answered tenderly.
"One cannot live unspotted except in the heart."
He kissed her again, tenderly, lovingly. But the kiss
did not assuage her burning shame; it savored of pity,
of magnificent charity.
One still, frozen winter day succeeded another in
changeless iteration. The lake was a solid floor of gray
ice as far as one could see. Along the shore between
the breakwaters the ice lay piled in high waves, with
circles of clear, shining glass beyond. A persistent drift
from the north and east, day after day, lifted the sheets
of surface ice and slid them over the inner ledges.
At night the lake cracked and boomed like a battery of
powerful guns, one report starting another until the shore
resounded with the noise. The perpetual groaning of
the laboring ice, the rending and riving of the great
fields, could be heard as far inshore as the temple all
through the still night.
Early every morning Sommers with Alves would start
for the lake. At this hour only an occasional fisher-
man could be seen, cutting fresh holes in the ice and
setting his lines. Sommers preferred to skate in the
mornings, for later in the day the smooth patches of
inshore ice were frequented by people from the city.
He loved solitude, it seemed to Alves, more and more.
In the Keystone days he had been indifferent to the
people of the house; now he avoided people except as
they needed him professionally. She attributed it,
wrongly, to a feeling of pride. In reality, the habit of
296 THE "WEB OF LIFE
self-dependence was gaining, and the man was thrusting
the world into the background. For hours Sommers
never spoke. Always sparing of words, counting them
little, despising voluble people, he was beginning to lose
the power of ready speech. Thus, living in one of the
most jostling of the world's taverns, they lived as in
the heart of the Arizona desert.
They skated in these long silences, enjoying the
exhilaration of the exercise, the bitter air, the views of
the huge, silent city. Now and then they paused instinc-
tively to watch the scene, without speaking, like great
lovers that are mute. Starting from the sheltered pool,
where the yachts lay in summer, they skirted the dark
piles of the long pier, around which the black water
gurgled treacherously. Beyond the pier there was a
snakelike, oozing crack, which divided the inshore ice
from the more open fields outside. This they followed
until they found a chance to cross, and then they sped
away toward the little island made by the " intake " of
the water works.
These windless mornings the bank of city smoke
northward was like gray powder, out of which the sky-
scrapers stretched their lofty heads. The buildings
along the shore, etched in the transparent air, breathing
silently white mists of steam, lay like a mirage wonder-
fully touched with purplish shadows. The great steel
works rose to the south, visibly near, mysteriously
remote. The ribbons of fiery smoke from their furnaces
were the first signs of the city's awakening from its
lethargic industrial sleep. The beast was beginning to
THE WEB OF LIFE 297
move along its score of miles of length. But out here in
the vacancies of the lake it seemed still torpid.
Eastward, beyond the dot which the " intake " made,
the lake was a still arctic field, furrowed by ice-floes,
snowy here, with an open pool of water there, ribbed all
over with dark crevasses of oozing water. In the far east
lay the horizon' line of shimmering, gauzy light, as if from
beyond the earth's rim was flooding in the brilliance of
a perpetual morning. North and south, east and west,
along the crevasses the lake smoked in the morning
sun, as the vapor from the water beneath rose into the
icy air. Savage, tranquil, immense, the vast field of
ice was like the indifferent face of nature, like unto
One morning, as they waited breathlessly listening to
the silence of the ice sea, the lake groaned close beside
them, and suddenly the floe on which they stood parted
from the field nearer shore. In a few minutes the lane
of open water was six feet in width. Sommers pointed
to it, and without a word they struck out to the north,
weaving their way in and out of the floes, now clamber-
ing over heaved-up barriers of ice, now flying along an
unscarred field, again making their way cautiously across
sheets of shivered surface ice that lay like broken glass
beside a crevasse. Finally, they reached the inner field.
Sommers looked at his watch, and said :
"We might as well go ashore here. That was rather
a narrow chance. I must look in at the Keystone
to see how Webber is. I shouldn't wonder if he had
298 THE WEB OP LIFE
"I wish we could go on," Alves replied regretfully.
"I was hoping the lane ran on and on for miles."
She put her hands under his coat and leaned against
him, looking wistfully into the arctic sea.
" Let me go back ! " she pleaded. " I should like to
skate on, on, for days ! "
" You can't go back without me. Some day, if this
weather keeps up, we'll try for the Michigan shore."
"I should like to end things in this way," she con-
tinued musingly; "just us two, to plunge on and on and
on into that quiet ice-field, until, at last, some pool
shot up ahead — and then ! To go out like that, quenched
right in the heat of our lives; not chilled, piece by
Sommers moved impatiently.
" It isn't time for that."
"No?" she asked rather than assented, and turned her
face to the city. "I am not sure; sometimes I think it
is the ripe time. There can be nothing more."
Sommers did not answer, but began to skate slowly.
Half an hour later they climbed over the hills of shore
ice, and he hurried away to the Keystone. Alves
walked slowly south on the esplanade. The gray sea of
ice was covered now with the winter sun. The pools and
crevasses sent up sheets of steam. Her eyes followed
the ice lingeringly. Once she turned back to the lake,
but finally she started across the frozen grass plots in the
direction of the temple. She could see from a distance
a black figure seated on the portico, and she hastened
her steps. -She recognized the familiar squat, black-
THE WEB OF LIFE 299
clothed person of Mrs. Ducharme. There, in the
sunlight between the broken pillars, this gloomy figure
seemed of ill omen. Alves regretted that she had
turned back from the ice.
Mrs. Ducharme showed no sign of life until Alves
reached the steps. She was worn and unkempt. A
ragged straw hat but partly disguised her rumpled hair.
Alves recalled what Miss M'G-ann had said about her
"I've been to see you two, three times," Mrs. Du-
charme said, in a hoarse, grumbling tone; "but you'se
always out. This time I was a-going to wait if I'd
stayed all night."
" Come in," Alves answered, unlocking the door. The
woman dragged herself into the temple.
" Not so tidy a place as you and the other one had, "
she remarked mournfully.
Alves waited for her to declare her errand; but as she
seemed in no haste to speak, she asked,
"Did you ever find Ducharme?"
The Duchesse nodded sombrely, closing her eyes.
" The woman shook him time of the strikes, when his
money was gone."
"Well, isn't that what you wanted?"
Mrs. Ducharme nodded her head slowly.
"She made him bad. He drinks, awful sometimes,
and whenever I say anything, he says he's going back to
Peory, to that woman."
Alves waited for the expected request for money.
"They'se awful, these men; but a woman can't get on
300 THE "WEB OP LIFE
without 'em, no more than the men without us. Only
the men don't care much which one. Any one will do
for a time. Do you find the new one any better? "
"I am very happy," Alves replied with a flush; "but
I don't care to talk about my affairs."
"You needn't be so close," the woman exclaimed
irritably. " I know all about you. The real one was a
fine gentleman, even if he did liquor bad."
" I told you," Alves repeated, " that I didn't care to talk
of my affairs. What do you want?"
" I've come here to talk of your affairs," Mrs Ducharme
answered insolently. "And I guess you'll listen. He,
— I don't mean the doctor, — the real 'un, came of rich,
respectable folks. He told me all about it, and got me
to write 'em for money, and his sister sent him some."
" So that was where he obtained the money to drink
with when he got out of the cottage ! " Alves exclaimed.
The woman nodded, and added, "He gave me some,
Alves rose and opened the door.
"I don't see why you came here," she said briefly,
pointing to the door.
But Mrs. Ducharme merely laughed and kept her seat.
" Did he, the doctor feller, ever ask you anything about
his death?" she asked.
Alves looked at her blankly.
" When he signed that paper you gave the undertaker ? "
continued the Duchesse.
"I don't know what you mean!" Alves exclaimed,
closing the door and walking away from the woman.
THE WEB OP LIFE 301
"How did he die?" Mrs. Ducharme whispered.
"You know as well as I," Alves cried, terrified now
by the mysterious air the woman assumed.
" Yes ! " Mrs. Ducharme whispered again. " I know as
well as you. I know, and I can tell. I know how the
wife gave him powders, — sleeping powders the doctor
ordered, — the doctor who was hanging around, and ran
off with her just after the funeral."
The woman's scheme of extracting blackmail flashed
instantly into Alves's mind.
"You foul creature," she gasped, " you know it is an
abominable lie - — " -jr/. /?
k so? Well, Ducharme didn't think so when I j?^ i
, and there are others that 'ud believe it, if I-, /
should testify to it ! " C4/n&U
Alves walked to and fro, overwhelmed by the thoughts
of the evil which was around her. At last she faced
Mrs. Ducharme, who was watching her closely.
" I see what it means. You want money — blackmail,
and you think you've got a good chance. But I will not
give you a cent. I will tell Dr. Sommers first, and let
him deal with you."
" The doctor ! What does he say about his dying quiet
and nice as he did? I guess the doctor'll see the point."
Alves started. What did Sommers think ? What
were his half -completed inquiries? What did his
conduct the night of Preston's death mean? This
wretched affair was like a curse left to injure her by the
miserable creature she had once been tied to. But Som-
mers would believe her ! She had given Preston but one,
302 THE WEB OP LIFE
powder, and he had said two were safe. She must tell
him exactly what she had done.
"You had better go now," she said to the woman
more calmly. " I shall let Dr. Sommers know what your
story is. He will answer you."
"Better not tell him," the woman replied, with a
laugh. "He knows all he wants to — or I'd 'a' gone to
him at once. When he hears about the scrape, he'll run
and leave you. You ain't married, anyway ! "
"Go," Alves implored.
Mrs. Ducharme rose and stood irresolutely.
"I don't want much, not to trouble you. I'll give
you a day to think this over, and to-morrer morning I'll
be here at nine sharp to get your answer."
When the woman had gone, Alves tried to reason the
matter out calmly. She had been too excited. The
charge was simply preposterous, and, inexperienced as
she was, she felt that nothing could be made of it in any
court. But the mere suggestion of a court, of a public
inquiry, alarmed her, not for herself but for Sommers,
who would suffer grievously. And it did not seem easy
to discuss the matter with him as she must now; it
would bring up distressing scenes. Her face burned
at the thought. The woman's tale was plausible. Had
Sommers wondered about the death? Gradually it came
over her that Sommers had always suspected this thing.
She was sure of it. He had not spoken of it because he
wished to protect her from her own deed. But, now, he
would not believe her. The Ducharme woman's tale
would fit in with his surmises. No! he must believe
THE WEB OP LIFE 303
her. And beside this last fear, the idea of publicity, of
ventilating the old scandal, thus damning him finally and
hounding him out of his little practice, faded into incon-
sequence. The terrible thing was that for eighteen
months he had carried this belief about her in his heart.
She tried to divert her excited mind from the throng
of suspicions and fears by preparing dinner. One
o'clock came, then two, and Sommers did not arrive.
Mrs. Ducharme might have waited for him at the
entrance to the avenue, and he might have turned back
to debate with himself what he should do. But she
acquitted him of that cowardice.
As the afternoon wore on, her mind turned to the
larger thoughts of their union. She saw with sudden
clearness what she had done to this man she loved. She
had taken him from his proper position in the world;
she had forced him to push his theories of revolt beyond
sane limits. She had isolated him, tied him, and his
powers would never be tested. A man like him could
never be happy, standing outside the fight with his
equals. Worse yet, she had soiled the reverences of his
nature. What was she but a soiled thing ! The tender-
ness of his first passion had sprung amid the rank
growth of her past with its sordid little drama. And
the soil in her fate had tarnished their lives ever since,
until this grievous . . .
And what had she given him? Love, — every throb
of her passionate body, every desire and thought. Was
this enough? There sounded the sad note of defeat: it
304 THE WEB OP LIFE
was not, could not be, would never be enough! No man
ever lived from love alone. Passion was a torrid desert.
Already she had felt him fading out of her life, with-
drawing into the mysterious recesses of his soul. He
did not know it; he did not willingly put her away.
But as each plant of the field was destined to grow its
own way, side by side with its fellows, so human souls
grew singly by themselves from some irresistible inner
force. And she was but the parasite that fed upon this
The room stifled her. She fetched her cape and hat.
They were lying upon his table, and as she took them
she could see the sheets of an unfinished letter. The
writing was firm and fine, with the regular alignment
and spacing of one who is deft about handwork. Her
eye glanced over the page; the letter was in answer to
a doctor in Baltimore, who had asked him to cooperate
in preparing a surgical monograph. "I should like
extremely to be with you in this," ran the lines, like the
voice of the speaking man, "but — and the refusal pains
me more than you know — I cannot in honesty undertake
the work. I have not suitable conditions. It is eighteen
months since I entered a hospital, and I am behind the
times. And, for the present, I see no prospect of being
in a condition to undertake the work. I advise you to
try Miiller, or — " There the letter broke off, unfin-
ished. She raised it to her lips and kissed it. This
was another sign, and she would heed it. To be a full
man he must return to the poor average world, or be less
than the trivial people he had always despised.
THE WEB OP LIFE 305
When she opened the door, the level rays of the west-
ern sun blinded her. There -was no wind. Eastward
the purple shadows had thickened, effacing the line of
light along the horizon. The frozen lake stretched,
ridged and furrowed, into the gloom. Toward it she
walked, — slowly, irresistibly drawn by its limitless
She had boasted to Miss Hitchcock, "I will take
myself out of his life, if need be." It was not an
empty, woman's boast. She was strong enough to do
what she willed. The time had come. She would not
see him again. To break with words the ties between
them would but dishonor them both. They must not
discuss this thing. At the shore of the pool where they
had put on their skates in the morning she paused,
shaken with a new thought. The woman would come
back on the morrow, and, without one word of denial
from her, would tell him that terrible lie, confirming his
old suspicions. She must see him, — she could not
leave him with that foul memory, — and she returned
to the temple in the hope that he was already there.
The little building, however, was empty and desolate,
and she sat down by the fire to wait.
The story, the denial of it, no longer seemed impor-
tant. She would write him what she had to say, and go
away. She would tell him that she had not poisoned
her husband like a sick dog, and he would believe the
solemn last words. She took a sheet of paper from his
table and wrote hesitatingly :
306 THE WEB OP LIFE
"Deak Howard: I am leaving you — forever."
Then she began again and again, but at last she came
back to the first words and wrote on desperately : " I can-
not make you understand it all. But one thing I must
tell you, and you must believe it. That horrible woman,
Mrs. Ducharme, was here this morning and told me that
I had given opiates to my husband when he was ill in the
cottage, and had killed him, and that you knew it. Some-
how I remembered things that made me know you thought
so, had always thought so. Perhaps you will still think
it must have been so, her story is so terribly probable.
" Howard, you used to think that it would be right
— but I couldn't. I might have in time, but I couldn't
then. I did nothing to hasten his death. Believe this,
if you love me the least.
" That isn't the sole reason why I leave you. But it is
all like that. I ruin the world for you. Love is not all,
— at least for a man, — and somehow with me you can-
not have the rest and love. We were wrong to rebel —
I was wrong to take my happiness. I longed so! I
have been so happy ! " Alves."
It seemed pitifully inadequate — a few wavering lines
— to tell the tale of the volumes in her heart. But with
a sigh she pushed back the chair and gathered her hat
and cape. Once more she hesitated, and seeing that the
fire in the stove was low, replenished it. Then she
turned swiftly away, locked the door, — putting the key
where they hid it, in the hollow of a pillar, — and walked
rapidly in the direction of the lake.
THE WEB OF LIFE 307
It was already nearly dusk. Little groups of skaters
were sauntering homeward from the lagoons and the
patches of inshore ice. The lake was gray and stern.
She gained the esplanade, with a vague purpose of
walking into the city, of taking the train for Wisconsin.
But as she passed the long pier, the desire to walk out
on the ice seized her once more. With some difficulty
she gained the black ice after scrambling over the debris
piled high against the beach. When she reached the
clear spaces she walked slowly toward the open lake.
The gloom of the winter night was already gathering;
as she passed the head of the pier, a park-guard hailed
her, with some warning cry. She paid no attention,
but walked on, slowly picking her way among the
familiar ice hills, in and out of the floes.
Once beyond the head of the pier she was absolutely
alone in the darkening sea of ice. The cracks and cre-
vasses were no longer steaming; instead, a thin shell of
ice was coating over the open surfaces. But she knew
all these spots and picked her way carefully. The dark-
ness had already enveloped the shore. Beyond, on all
sides, rose small white hills of drifted ice, making a little
arctic ocean, with its own strange solitude, its majestic
distances, its titanic noises; for the fields of ice were
moving in obedience to the undercurrents, the impact
from distant northerly winds. And as they moved, they
shrieked and groaned, the thunderous voices hailing
from far up the lake and pealing past the solitary figure
to the black wastes beyond. This tumult of the lake
increased in fury, yet with solemn pauses of absolute
308 THE WEB OE LIFE
silence between the reports. At first Alves stood still
and listened, fearful, but as she became used to the
noise, she walked on calm, courageous, and strangely at
peace in the clamor. Once she faced the land, where
the arc lights along the esplanade made blue holes in
the black night. Eastward the radiant line of illumined
horizon reappeared, creating a kind of false daybreak.
So this was the end as she had wished it — alone in
the immensity of the frozen lake. This was like the
true conception of life — one vast, ever darkening sphere
filled with threatening voices, where she and others
wandered in sorrow, in regret, in disappointment, and,
also, in joy. Oh! that redeemed it. Her joy had been
so beautiful, so true to the promise of God in the piti-
ful heart of man. She said to herself that she had tasted
it without sin, and now had the courage to put it away
from her before it turned to a draught bitter to her and
to others. There were more joys in this life than the
fierce love for man : the joy over a child, which had
been given to her and taken away; the joy of triumph,
the joy — but why should she remember the others?
Her joy had its own perfection. For all the tears and
waste of living, this one passion had been given — a
joy that warmed her body in the cold gloom of the
There loomed in her path a black wall of broken ice.
She drew herself slowly over the crest of the massed
blocks. Beyond lay a pleasant blackness of clear water,
into which she plunged, — still warm with the glow of
her perfect happiness.
Webber had a well-developed ease of typhoid, and
Sommers had him moved to St. Isidore's. The doctor ac-
companied him to the hospital, and once within the doors
of his old home, he lingered chatting with the house
physician, who had graduated from the Philadelphia
school shortly after Sommers had left. The come and
go of the plaGe, the air of excitement about the hospital,
stirred Sommers as nothing in months had done. Then
the attention paid him by the internes and the older
nurses, who had kept alive in their busy little world the
tradition of his brilliant work, aroused all the vanity in
his nature. When he was about to tear himself away
from the pleasant antiseptic odor and orderly bustle, the
house physician pressed him to stay to luncheon. He
yielded, longing to hear the talk about cases, and remem-
bering with pleasure the unconventional manners and
bad food of the St. Isidore mess-table. After luncheon
he was urged to attend an operation by a well-known sur-
geon, whose honest work he had always admired. It
was late in the afternoon when he finally started to
leave, and then a nurse brought word that Webber was
anxious to see him about some business. He found
Webber greatly excited and worried over money matters.
To his surprise he learned that the foppish, quiet-man-
310 THE WEB OP LIFE
nered clerk had been dabbling in the market. He held
some Distillery common stock, and, also, Northern Iron
— two of the new " industrials " that were beginning to
sprout in Chicago.
"You must ask the brokers to sell if the market is
going against me," the clerk exclaimed feverishly.
"Perhaps, if I am to be tied up here a long time, they'd
better sell, anyway."
" Yes, " Sommers assented ; " you must get it off your
So, with a promise to see White and Einstein, the
brokers, at once, and look after the stock, he soothed the
"You're a good fellow," Webber sighed. "It's about
all I have. I'll tell you some time why I went in — I
had very direct information."
Sommers cut him short and hastened away. By the
time he had found White and Einstein's office, a little
room about as large as a cigar shop in the basement of
a large building on La Salle Street, the place was
deserted. A stenographer, told him, with contempt in
her voice, that the Exchange had been closed for two
hours. Resolving to return the first thing in the morn-
ing, he started for the temple. He had two visits to
make that he had neglected for Webber's case, but he
would wait until the evening and take Alves with him.
He had not seen her for hours. Eor the first time in
months he indulged himself in a few petty extravagances
as he crossed the city to get his train. The day had
excited him, had destroyed the calm of his usual con-
THE WEB OP LIFE 311
trolled, plodding habits. The feverish buoyancy of his
mood made it pleasant to thread the chaotic streams of
the city streets. It was intoxicating to rub shoulders
with men once more.
At Sixtieth Street he left the train and strode across
the park, his imagination playing happy, visionary
tunes. He would drop in to-morrow at St. Isidore's on
his way back from White and Einstein's. He must see
more of those fellows at Henry's clinic; they seemed
a good set. And he was not sure that he should answer
the Baltimore man so flatly. He would write for further
details. When he reached the temple, he found the
place closed, and he thought that Alves had gone to see
one of his cases for him. The key was in its usual hiding-
place, and the fire looked as if it had been made freshly.
He had just missed her. So he filled a pipe, and hunted
along the table for the unfinished letter to the Baltimore
man. It was blotted, he noticed, and he would have to
copy it in any case. As he laid it aside, his eyes fell
upon a loose sheet of note-paper covered with Alves 's
unfamiliar writing. He took it up and read it, and then
looked around him to see her, to find her there in the
next room. The letter was so unreal!
" Alves ! " he called out, the pleasant glow of hope
fading in his heart. How he had forgotten her! She
must be suffering so much ! Mechanically he put on his
hat and coat and left the temple, hiding the key in the
pillar. She could not have been gone long, — the room
had the air of her having just left it. He should surely
find her nearby; he must find her. Whipped by the
312 THE WEB OP LIFE
intolerable imagination of her suffering, lie passed
swiftly down the sandy path toward the electric lights,
that were already lamping silently along the park
esplanade. He chose this road, unconsciously feeling
fchat she would plunge out that way. What had the
Ducharme woman said? What had made her take this
harsh step, macerating herself and him just as they
were beginning to breathe without fear? He sped on,
into the gullies by the foundations of the burnt build-
ings, up to the new boulevard. After one moment of
irresolution he turned to the right, to the lake. That
icy sea had fascinated her so strongly ! He shivered at
the memory of her words. Once abreast of the pier he
did not pause, but swiftly clambered out over the ice
hills and groped his way along the black piles of the
pier. The vastness of the field he had to search ! But he
would go, even across the floes of ice to the Michigan
shore. He was certain that she was out there, beyond
in the black night, in the gloom of the rending ice.
Suddenly, as he neared the end of the pier, the big
form of a man, bearing, dragging a burden, loomed up
out of the dark expanse. It came nearer, and Sommers
could make out the uniform of a park-guard. He was
half -carrying, half -dragging the limp form of a woman.
Sommers tried to hail him, but he could not cry. At
last the guard called out when he was within a few
" Give me a hand, will you. It' a a woman, — suicide,
I guess," he added more gently.
Sommers walked forward and took the limp form.
THE WEB OP LIFE 313
The drenched garments were already frosting in the
cold. He turned the flap of the cape back from the face.
"It is my wife," he said quietly.
" I saw her from the pier goin' out, and I called to her,"
the guard replied, "but she kept on all the faster.
Then I went back to the shore and got on the ice and
followed her as fast as I could, but — "
Together they lifted her and carried her in over the
rough shore ice up to the esplanade.
"We live over there." Sommers pointed in the direc-
tion of the temple. The man nodded; he seemed to
know the young doctor.
"I shall not need your help," Sommers continued,
wrapping the stiff cape about the yielding form. He
took her gently in his arms, staggered under the weight,
then started slowly along the esplanade. The guard fol-
lowed for a few steps ; but as the doctor seemed able to
carry his burden alone, he turned back toward the city.
Sommers walked on slowly. The stiff cape slipped
back from Alves's head, revealing in the blue electric
light the marble-white pallor of the flesh, the closed
eyes. Sommers stopped to kiss the cold face, and with
the movement Alves's head nestled forward against his
hot neck. Tears rose to his eyes and fell against her
cheek; he started on once more, tracing carefully the
windings of the path.
So this was the end! The little warmth and love of
his cherishing arms about her cold body completed the
pittance of happiness she had craved.
314 THE WEB OF LIFE
The story was too dark for him to comprehend now
— from that first understanding moment in St. Isidore's
receiving room to this. Here was his revolt, in one
cold burden of dead love. She had left him in some
delusion that it would be better thus, that by this means
he would find his way, free and unshackled, back to the
world of his fellows. And, perhaps, like a creature
of love, she had blindly felt love's slow, creeping
paralysis, love's ultimate death. Even now, as he stag-
gered along the lighted avenue of the park, in the silence
of death and of night, that pregnant reproach oppressed
his heart. He had not loved her enough ! She had felt
a wall that was building impalpably between them, a
division of thought and of feeling. She had put her
arms against his man's world of secret ambition and
desire and had found it cold.
She had struggled for her bit of happiness, poor, lov-
ing woman ! She had suffered under her past error, her
marriage with Preston, and had endured, until, sud-
denly relieved, she had embraced her happiness, only to
find it slowly vanishing in her warm hands. He had
suspected her of grasping this happiness without scruple,
clamorously; but her sweet white lips spoke out the
falseness of this accusation. It was bitter to know that
he had covered her with this secret suspicion. He owed
her a sea of pardons !
So he labored on into the dark stretches of the park,
among the de'bris of the devastated buildings, up the
little sandy hills, out of the park to the lonely temple.
Already his self-reproach seemed trivial. He knew how
THE WEB OP LIFE 315
little his concealed suspicions had to do with bringing
about this catastrophe. That misunderstanding was but
a drop in the stream of fate, which was all too swift for
her strength. He paused at the last turn of the road
and rested, settling his burden more closely in his arms,
drawing her to him in the unavailing embrace of regret.
Another kind of life, he said, — some average marriage
with children and home would have given her more fully
the human modicum of joy. But his heart rejected also
this reproach. In no other circumstance could he place
her justly. She was so amply made for joy — so strong
to love, to endure ; so true to the eternal passions. But
not mere household love, the calm minutes of interlude
in the fragments of a busy day ! They would not satisfy
the deep thirst for love in her heart. He had given
the best he had — all, nearly all, as few men could give,
as most men never give. He must content himself there.
He started again and strode on to the end of the jour-
ney. Within the temple he placed her on their bed,
taking off her stiff clothes and preparing her for sleep.
Then he remade the fire, and opening a window for the
low night wind to draw across her face as she liked to
have it, he sat down for his vigil.
Yes, it was the end! It was the end of his little per-
sonal battle with the world, the end of judging and
striving, the end of revolt. He should live on, strangely
enough, into many years, but not as they had tried to
live in self-made isolation. He should return-jo that
, ^.— — — — —
web of life from which they "had striven to extricate
themslilyesT "She" bade Tiinf go~back to that fretwork,
316 THE WEB OF LIFE
unsolvable 'world of little and great, of domineering
and incompetent wills, of the powerful rich struggling
blindly to dominate and the weak poor struggling
blindly to keep their lives : the vast web of petty greeds
and blind efforts. He should return, but humbly, with
the crude dross of his self-will burnt out. They had
rebelled together ; they had had their wills to them-
selves; and that was ended. It could not have been
otherwise. They could never have known each other in
the world ; they had to withdraw themselves apart. He
looked at her afresh, lying on the pillow by his side, her
hair twining carelessly about the white arm. She was
infinitely greater than he, — so undivided and complete
a soul! She had left him for the commoner uses of life.
And all the stains of their experience had been removed,
washed out by the pure accomplishment of her end.
Already so cold, so sweetly distant, that face, — so
done with life and with him ! He leaned over it and
burst into tears. The dream of the summer night had
Mrs. Duchakmb returned to the temple at an early
hour the next morning. Sommers saw her mumbling to
herself as she came across the park. Before she knocked,
he opened the door; she started back in fear of the
sombre, bearded face with the blood-shot eyes that
seemed lying in wait for her.
"Is the missus at home?" she murmured, drawing
back from the door.
"Come in," the doctor ordered.
As soon as she entered, Sommers locked the door.
"Now," he said quietly, pointing to a chair, "the
whole story and no lies."
The woman looked at the doctor and trembled; then
she edged toward the inner door. Sommers locked this,
flung the key on the table, and pointed again to the
"What did you tell her yesterday?" he demanded.
Mrs. Ducharme began an incoherent tale about her
head hurting her, about the sin which the "healer " com-
manded her to rid her conscience of. Sommers inter-
, "Answer my questions. Did you threaten her ?"
The woman nodded her head.
" Did you accuse her of drugging her husband? "
318 THE WEB OF LIFE
She nodded her head again reluctantly; then cried out,
— "Let me go! I'll have the police on you two."
Sommers stood over the woman as if he were about to
lay hands on her.
" You know the facts. Tell them. What happened to
Preston that day?"
"He'd been drinking."
"You got him the liquor?"
" Then you gave him a powder from that box in Mrs.
The woman looked terrified, and did not answer.
"If you don't tell me every word of truth," Sommers
said, slowly drawing a little syringe from his pocket,
"you will never see anything again."
"Yes, I gave him a powder."
She nodded, her hands shaking.
"Yes," she gasped. "I was afraid Mrs. Preston
^Bvould find out what I had done, and one powder wasn't
enough, didn't keep him quiet. So I put two more in
— thought it wouldn't do no harm. Then I guess Mrs.
Preston gave him some, when she came in. But you
can't touch me," she added impudently. "The healer
said you had done a criminal act in signing that certifi-
cate. You and she better look out."
Sommers stepped across the room and opened the inner
door. Mrs. Ducharme gave one glance at the silent
figure and shrieked:
THE WEB OE LIEE 319
" You killed her ! You killed her ! Let me out ! "
Somniers closed the door softly and returned to the
"Keep quiet," Sommers ordered sternly, "while I
think what to do with you."
She held her tongue and sat as still as her quaking
nerves permitted. Sommers reviewed rapidly the story
as he had made it out. At first it occurred to him, as
it had to Alves, that the woman had been drinking.
But his practised eyes saw more surely than Alves,
and he judged that her conduct had been the result of
mental derangement. Probably the blow over the eye,
from which she was suffering when she came to Lindsay's
office, had hurt the brain. Otherwise, she would not have
been silly enough to go to Alves with her foolish story.
It was possible, also, that the night of Preston's death
she had not known what she was doing. His resent-
ment gave place to disgust. The sole question was what
to do with her. She would talk, probably, and in some
way he must avoid that danger for a few days, at least.
Then it would not matter to Alves or to him what she
Finally he turned to the miserable, shaking figure, and
said sternly :
" You have committed one murder, and, perhaps, two.
But I will not kill you now, or put out your eyes, unless
you get troublesome. Have you any money? I thought
not. You are going with me to the railroad station,
where I shall buy you a ticket."
He unlocked the door and motioned to the woman.
320 THE WEB OF LIFE
She followed him to the station -without protest, fasci-
nated by his strong will. Sommers bought a ticket to
St. Louis and handed it to her with a dollar.
"Eemember, if I see or hear of you again," — he put
his finger in his waistcoat pocket, significantly. "And
there are other powders," he added grimly.
" Ducharme has gone back to Peory. I s'pose I can stop
off there ? " she asked timidly, as the express arrived.
"You can stop off anywhere on your way to hell," the
doctor replied indifferently. "But keep away from
Chicago. There is no quicker way of making that
journey to hell than to come back here."
Mrs. Ducharme trembled afresh and bundled herself
on board the train.
Sommers returned to the temple, feeling assured that
the next few hours would not be disturbed by the ill-
omened creature. • This vulgar, brutal act had to be per-
formed; he had been preparing himself for it since
daylight, when his mind had resumed the round of cause
and effect that answers for life. It was over now, and
he could return to Alves. There were other petty things
to be done, but not yet. As he came across the park he
noticed that the door of the temple was open. Some
one had entered while he was away. At his step on the
portico a figure rose from the inner room and came to
meet him. It was Louise Hitchcock. The traces of
tears lay on her face.
"I knew this morning," she said gently. "I thought
you might be alone — and so I came."
THE WEB OE LIEE 321
"Sit down," Sommers replied wearily. In a few
moments he added, " I suppose you saw it in the papers
— the guard must have told. Strange! that even in
death the world must meddle with her, the world that
cared nothing for her."
"I am sorry." Miss Hitchcock blushed as she spoke.
"I will go away — I didn't mean to intrude — I
thought — "
"No, don't go! I didn't mean you. I wanted to be
alone, all alone for a little while, but I am glad now
that you came, that you cared to come. You didn't
"She wouldn't let me know her," Miss Hitchcock
"Yes, I remember. You see, our life was peculiar.
I think Alves was afraid of you, of all the world."
"I knew how you loved her," Miss Hitchcock
Sommers tried to answer. He felt like talking to this
warm-hearted woman; he wanted to talk, but he could
not phrase the complex feeling in his heart. Every-
thing about Alves had something in it he could not make
another, even the most sympathetic soul in the world,
understand. It was like trying to explain an impression
of a whole life.
"There is so much I can't tell any one," he said at
last, with a wan smile. "Don't misunderstand — you'd
have to know the whole, and I couldn't begin to make
you know it."
"Don't try," she said, tears coming to her eyes. "I
322 THE WEB OF LIFE
know that it has been noble and generous — on both
sides," she added.
"It has ended," he answered drearily. "I don't
know where to begin."
"Can't I send for some one, some friend?" she
"I haven't any friend," he replied absently. "And
Alves wouldn't want any one. She would have done
everything for me. I will do everything for her."
"Then I will stay here, while you are away," Miss
Hitchcock replied quickly. " Don't hurry. I will wait
here in this room."
Sommers thought a moment and then answered gently :
"I think not. I think Alves would rather be alone.
Let me go back to the city with you. I have some
Miss Hitchcock's face expressed her disappointment.
She had triumphed impulsively over so many conventions
in coming to him unasked that she felt doubly hurt.
" Very well. Only you will not always put me outside,
in this way ? " she implored, bravely stifling her pride.
" It will not be so easy to say it later, and it will hurt if
you refuse to have anything to do with my father and me. "
"I shall not refuse," Sommers responded warmly.
"I am grateful for what you want to do."
" You know — " She completed the sentence with a
sigh and prepared to accompany him. Sommers locked
the door, putting the key in the usual hiding-place, and
together they crossed the park to the railroad station.
There they separated.
THE WEB OF LIFE 323
"I shall not come out to-morrow," Miss Hitchcock
said, as if she had arrived at the decision after some
He did not urge her to come, and they shook hands.
"Remember," she said hesitatingly, "that ideas don't
separate people. You must trust people, those who
understand and care."
"I shan't forget," he answered humbly.
On the train he remembered "Webber's business, and
as soon as he reached the city he went to the brokers'
office. The morning session of the Exchange had just
closed, and Einstein was fluttering in and out of his
private office, sending telegrams and telephone messages.
Sommers got his ear for a moment and explained his
"I don't know anything about the stocks," he con-
cluded. " But I think you had best close his account, as
it will be some weeks before he should be troubled with
" Damn shame ! " Einstein remarked irritably, remov-
ing his cigar from his mouth. " I could have got him
out even this morning. Now, it's too late."
As Sommers seemed ignorant of the market, the broker
went on to explain, meanwhile sending a telegram :
"Most of his is Consolidated Iron — one of Carson's
new promotions. Porter is in it, and a lot of big men.
Splendid thing, but theee new industrials are skittish as
colts, and the war talk is like an early frost. Yesterday
it was up to ninety, but to-day, after that Venezuelau
324 THE WEB OE LIFE
business in the Senate, it backed down ten points. That
about cleans our friend out."
" He doesn't own the stock, then ? " Sommers asked.
Einstein looked at the doctor pityingly.
" He's taken a block of two hundred on margins. We
hold some Baking Powder common for him, too. But
he owns that."
Sommers lingered about, irresolute. He didn't like to
take the responsibility of selling out Webber, nor the
equal responsibility of doing nothing. Miss M'Gann's
hopes, he reflected, hung on this stock trade.
"What is the prospect to-morrow?" Sommers asked
timidly. He felt out of place in all the skurry of the
brokers' office, where men were drinking in the last
quotations as the office boy scratched them on the board.
"Dunno. Can't tell. Good, if the Senate doesn't
shoot off its mouth any more."
" How much is Webber margined for? "
"Say, Phil," Einstein sang out to his partner, who
came out from another cubbyhole, "how much has
Webber on Iron ? "
" Six points," White replied. He nodded to Sommers.
The doctor remembered White as one of the negative
figures of his early months in Chicago, — a smiling, slim,
youthful college boy. Evidently he was the genteel
member of the firm. Sommers thought again. He
could not wait. "Will you carry him five points more? "
"Can you put up the money?" White replied
THE WEB OP LIFE 325
"No," the doctor admitted. "But I -will try to get
it at once."
Einstein shook his head. But White asked, good-
naturedly, "Are you sure?"
"I think so," the doctor replied.
"Well, that'll tide him over; the market is sure to go
back next week."
Sommers escaped from the heated room with its noise
and jostling men. He realized vaguely that he had
made himself responsible for a thousand dollars — fool-
ishly, he thought now. He had done it on the spur of
the moment, with the idea that he would save Webber
from a total loss, and thereby save Miss M'Gann. He
felt partly responsible, too; for if he had not lingered
at St. Isidore's yesterday, he could have delivered the
order before the reaction had set in. He wondered, how-
ever, at his ready promise to find the thousand dollars
for the extra margin. As he had told Miss Hitchcock,
he had not a friend in the world to whom he could apply
for help. Even the last duties to Alves he must per-
form alone, and to those he turned himself now.
As he passed the Athenian Building, he remembered
Dr. Leonard and went up to his office. The old dentist
was the one friend in Chicago whom Alves would want
near her to-morrow. Dr. Leonard came frowning out of
his office, and without asking Sommers to sit down
listened to what he had to say.
"Yes," he replied, without unwrinkling his old face,
"I saw it in the papers. I'll come, of course I'll come.
I set an awful store by Alves, poor girl ! There weren't
326 THE WEB OF LIFE
nothing right for her in this world. Maybe there will
be in the next."
Sommers made no reply. He felt the kind old
"Young feller," the dentist exclaimed sharply as
Sommers turned to go, "I mistrust you have much to
answer for in that poor girl's case. Does your heart
satisfy you that you have treated her right?"
Sommers bowed his head humbly before this blunt
speech. In the sense that Dr. Leonard meant, perhaps,
he was not guilty, but in other ways he was not sure. It
was a difficult thing to treat any human soul justly and
tenderly. The doctor took his silence for confession.
"Well," he added, turning away and adjusting his
spectacles that were lodged above his watery blue eyes,
" I ain't no call to blame you. It's enough blame any-
way to have hurt her — there wasn't a nicer woman ever
As Sommers left the Athenian Building, his mind
reverted to the talk with the brokers. He was glad that
he had undertaken to save Webber from his loss. Alves
would have liked it. Miss M'G-ann had been kind to
her when she was learning how to teach. Probably
Webber would lose the money in some other venture,
but he would do what he could to save the clerk's little
capital now. Where could he get the money? There
was but one person on whom he could call, and over-
coming his dislike of the errand he went at once to Miss
The house was pleasantly familiar. As he waited for
THE WEB OP LIFE 327
Miss Hitchcock in the little library that belonged
especially to her, he could detect no changes in the
conglomerate furnishing of the house. He had half
expected to find that it had yielded to the younger gener-
ation, but something had arrested the march of inno-
vation. The steel engravings still hung in the hall,
and the ugly staircase had not been reformed. Colonel
Hitchcock came into the house, and without looking
into the study went upstairs. Sommers started to inter-
cept him in the hall, but restrained the impulse. Miss
Hitchcock appeared in a few moments, advancing to
greet him with a frank smile, as if it were the most
natural thing to meet him there.
"I have come to ask you to do something for me,"
Sommers began at once, still standing, "because, as I
told you, I have no one else to ask for help."
"You take the bloom off kindnesses in a dreadfully
harsh way," Miss Hitchcock responded sadly.
"But it's something one doesn't usually ask of a
young woman," Sommers added. He told her briefly
the circumstances that led to his visit. " I haven't liter-
ally any friend of whom I could properly ask five cents."
"Don't say that. It sounds so forlorn! "
"Does it? I never thought about it before. I sup-
pose it is a reflection upon a man that at thirty-three
he hasn't any one in the world to ask a favor of. It
looks as if he had lived a pretty narrow life."
"Hard, not narrow," Miss Hitchcock interposed
quickly. "I will send the money to-morrow. John
will take it to the brokers, if you will write them a note."
328 THE WEB OF LIFE
As hie still stood, she went on, to avoid the awkward
silence: "Those horrid industrials! I am sure Uncle
Brome will lose everything in them. He's a born
gambler. Mr. Carson has got him interested in these
" Is his picture still on exhibition? " Sommers inquired,
with a faint smile.
"I don't know. I haven't seen much of them lately."
She spoke as if Carson and his kind were completely
indifferent to her. Her next remark surprised Som-
" I think I can see now why you felt as you did about
— well, Mr. Carson. He is a sort of shameless ideal
held up before such people as this young man who is
speculating. Isn't that it ? "
" Uncle Brome, too? When he makes several hundred
thousand dollars in Consolidated Iron, every clerk, every
little man who knows anything about it has all his bad,
greedy, envious passions aroused."
The doctor smiled at the serious manner in which the
young woman explored the old ground of their dif-
"But," she concluded, "they aren't all like Mr. Car-
son and Uncle Brome. You mustn't make that mistake.
And Uncle Brome is so generous, too. It is hard to
"No," Sommers said, preparing to leave. "Of course
they are not all alike, and it is hard to judge. No man
knows what he is doing — to any great extent."
THE WEB OF LIFE 329
" What will you do? " Miss Hitchcock asked abruptly.
As Sommers's careworn face flushed, she added
hurriedly, — " How cruel of uie ! Of course you don't
know. That will settle itself."
"I have had some notion of trying for a hospital
again. It doesn't take much to live. And I don't
believe in a doctor's making money. If it isn't the
hospital — well, there's enough to do."
Miss Hitchcock thought a moment, and then remarked
unexpectedly, " I like that idea ! "
"About all my kick over things has come to that
point. There are some people who should be willing to
— no, not willing, who should want to do things without
any pay. The world needs them. Most people are best
off in the struggle for bread, but the few who see how
— unsatisfying that end is, should be willing to work
without profits. Good- by."
As they shook hands, Sommers added casually: "I
shouldn't wonder if I went away from Chicago — for a
time. I don't know now, but I'll let you know, if you
care to have me."
" Of course I shall care to know ! "
Miss Hitchcock's voice trembled, and then steadied
itself, as she added, — " And I am glad you are thinking
With a sense of relief Sommers found himself alone,
and free to return to the temple, to Alves, for the last
time. The day had been crowded with insistent, petty
details, and he marvelled that he had submitted to them
330 THE WEB OP LIFE
patiently. In the chamber where the dead woman lay
it was strangely still — deserted by all things human.
He locked the doors and sat down for his second night
of watch, reproaching himself for the hours he had lost
this day. But when he looked at the cold, white face
upon the pillow, that already seemed the face of one who
had travelled far from this life, he felt that it had been
best as it was. He kissed the silent lips and covered
the face ; he would not look at it again. Alves had gone.
To-morrow he would lay this body in the little burial
plot of the seminary above the Wisconsin lakes.
Already Alves had bequeathed him something of her-
self. She had returned him to his fellow -laborers with
a new feeling toward them, a humbleness he had never
known, a desire to adjust himself with them. He was
sensitive to the kindness of the day, — White's friendly
trust, Leonard's just words, Miss Hitchcock's generos-
ity. As the sense of this life faded from the woman
he loved, the dawn of a fairer day came to him. And
his heart ached because she for whom he had desired
every happiness might never respond to human joy.
During the next two years the country awoke from
its torpor, feeling the blood tingle in its strong limbs once
more, and rubbing its eyes in wonder at its own folly.
Some said the spirit of hope was due to the gold basis ;
some said it was the good crops ; some said it was the
prospect of national expansion. In any event the coun-
try got tired of its long fit of sulks ; trade revived, rail-
roads set about mending their tracks, mills opened —
a current of splendid vitality began to throb. Men
took to their business with renewed avidity, content to
go their old ways, to make new snares and to enter them,
all unconscious of any mighty purpose. Those at the
faro tables of the market increased the stakes and opened
new tables. New industrial companies sprung up
overnight like mushrooms, watered and sunned by the
easy optimism of the hour. The rumors of war dis-
turbed this hothouse growth. But the " big people " took
advantage of these to squeeze the "little people," and
all worked to the glory of the great god. In the breast
of every man on the street was seated one conviction :
'This is a mighty country, and I am going to get some-
thing out of it. ' The stock market might bob up and
down; the gamblers might gain or lose their millions;
the little politicians of the hour might talk blood and iron
332 THE WEB OF LIFE
by the pound of Congressional Record ; but the great
tfact stared you in the face — every one -was hopeful;
for every one there was much good money somewhere.
It was a rich time in which to live.
Remote echoes of this optimism reached Sommers. He
learned, chiefly through the newspapers, that Mr. E. G.
Carson had emerged from the obscurity of Chicago and
had become a celebrity upon the metropolitan stage
after "the successful flotation of several specialties."
Mr. Brome Porter, he gathered from the same source,
had built himself a house in New York, and altogether
shaken the dust of Chicago from his feet. Sommers
passed him occasionally in the unconsolidated air of
Fifth Avenue, but the young doctor had long since sunk
out of Brome Porter's sphere of consciousness. Som-
mers thought Porter betrayed his need of Carlsbad more
than ever, and he wondered if the famous gambler had
beguiled Colonel Hitchcock into any of his ventures.
But Sommers did not trouble himself seriously with the
new manifestations of gigantic greed. Unconscious of
the fact that from collar-button to shoe-leather he was
assisting Mr. Carson's industries to yield revenues on
their water-logged stocks, he went his way in his profes-
sion and labored. For the larger part of the time he
was an assistant in a large New York hospital, where
he found enough hard work to keep his thoughts from
wandering to Carson, Brome Porter, and Company. In
the feverish days that preceded the outbreak of the
Cuban war, he heard rumors that Porter had been
caught in the last big "flotation," and was heavily
THE WEB OP LIFE 333
involved. But the excitement of those days destroyed
the importance of the news to the public and to him.
Sommers resolved to find service in one of the military
hospitals that before long became notorious as pest-
holes. From the day he arrived at Tampa, he found
enough to tax all his energies in trying to save the lives
of raw troops dumped in the most unsanitary spots a
paternal government could select. In the m§lee created
by incompetent officers and ignorant physicians, one
single-minded man could find all the duties he craved.
Toward the close of the war, on the formation of a new
typhoid hospital, Sommers was put in charge. There
one day in the heat of the fight with disease and corrup-
tion he discovered Parker Hitchcock, who had enlisted,
partly as a frolic, an excuse for throwing off the ennui
of business, and partly because his set were all going to
Cuba. Young Hitchcock had come down with typhoid
while waiting in Tampa for a transport, and had been
left in Sommers's camp. He greeted the familiar face
of the doctor with a welcome he had never given it in
" Am I going to die in this sink, doctor ? " he asked,
when Sommers came back to him in the evening.
"I can't say," the doctor replied, with a smile.
" You are a good deal better off on this board floor than
most of the typhoids in the camps, and we will do the
best we can. Shall I let your people know ? "
"No," the young fellow said slowly, his weak, white
face endeavoring to restrain the tears. " The old man
is in a bad place — Uncle Brome, you know — and I
334 THE WEB OF LIFE
guess if it hadn't been for my damn foolishness in New
York — "
He went off into delirious inconsequence, and on the
way back Sommers stopped to telegraph Miss Hitchcock.
A few days later he met her at the railroad station, and
drove her over to the camp. She was worn from her
hurried journey, and looked older than Sommers expected ;
but the buoyancy and capability of her nature seemed
indomitable. Sommers repeated to her what Parker had
said about not letting his people know.
"It's the first time he ever thought of poor papa,"
she said bluntly.
"I thought it might do him good to fight it out by
himself. But loneliness kills some of these fellows."
" Poor Parker ! " she exclaimed, with a touch of irony
in her tone. " He thought he should come home a hero,
with flags flying, all the honors of the season, and for-
giveness for his little faults. The girls would pet him,
and papa would overlook his past. The war was a kind
of easy penance for all his sins. And he never reached
Cuba even, but came down with typhoid — due to pure
carelessness, I am afraid."
"That is a familiar story, "the doctor observed, with
a grim smile, "especially in his set. They took the
war as a kind of football match — and it is just as well
"You are the ones that really know what it means
— the doctors and the nurses," Miss Hitchcock said
"Here is our San Juan," Sommers replied dryly,
THE WEB OF LIFE 335
pointing to the huddle of tents and pine sheds that
formed the hospital camp.
After they had visited Parker Hitchcock, Sommers con-
ducted her over the camp. Some of the cots were occu-
pied by gaunt figures of men whom she had known, and at
the end of their inspection, she remarked thoughtfully :
" I see that there is something to do here. It makes
me feel alive once more."
The next month, while Parker dragged slowly through
the stages of the disease, Miss Hitchcock worked ener—
getically with the nurses. Sommers met her here and
there about the camp and at their hurried meals. The
heat and the excitement told upon her, but her spirited,
good-humored mood, which was always at play, carried
her on. Finally, the convalescents were sent north to
cooler spots, and the camp was closed. Parker Hitch-
cock was well enough to be moved to Chicago, and Som-
mers, who had been relieved, took charge of him and a
number of other convalescents, who were to return to the
The last hours of the journey Sommers and Miss
Hitchcock spent together. The train was slowly trav-
ersing the dreary stretches of swamp and sand-hills of
" I remember how forlorn this seemed the other time
— four years ago ! " Sommers exclaimed. " And how
excited I was as the city came into view around the
curve of the lake. That was to be my world."
"And you didn't find it to your liking," Miss Hitch-
cock replied, with a little smile.
336 THE "WEB OP LIFE
"I couldn't understand it; the thing was like raw
spirits. It choked you."
" I think I understand now what the matter has always
been, " she resumed after a little interval. " You thought
we were all exceptionally selfish, but we were all just
like every one else, — running after the obvious, common
pleasures. What could you expect! (.Every boy and girl
in this country is told from the first lesson of the cradle,
over and over, that success is the one great and good
thing in life. \ The people here are young and strong,
and you can't blame them if they interpret that text a
little crudely. But I am beginning to understand what
"We can't escape the fact, though," Soramers re-
sponded. "Life must be based, to a large extent, on
gain, on mere living. Nature has ordered it."
"Only in cases like yours," she murmured. "I can
never free myself from the order of nature. I shall
always be the holder of power accumulated by some one
As Sommers refrained from making the platitudinous
reply that such a remark seemed to demand, they were
silent for several minutes. Then she asked, with an air
of constraint :
"What will you do? I mean after your visit to us,
for, of course, you must rest."
Sommers smiled ironically.
"That is the question every one asks. 'What will
you do ? what will you do ? ' Suppose I should say
'Nothing'? We are always planning. No one is ready
THE WEB OE LIFE 337
to wait and turn his hand to the nearest job. To-morrow,
next month, in good time, I shall know what that is."
"It puts out of the question a career, personal
"Yes," he answered quickly. "And could you do
that ? Could you care for a man who will have no
career, who has no 'future' ?"
Sommers's voice had taken a new tone of earnestness,
unlike the sober speculation in which they had been
indulging. Miss Hitchcock turned her face to the faded
landscape of the suburban fields, and failed to reply.
" I have lived out my egotism, " he continued earnestly.
" What you would call ambition has been dead for long
months. I haven't any lofty ambition even for scien-
tific work. Good results, even there, it seems to me, are
not born of personal desire, of pride. I am content to |
be a failure — an honest failure," he ended sharply.
" Don't say that ! " she protested, looking at him
frankly. "I shall never agree to that."
• The people around them began to bestir themselves
with the nervous restlessness of pent-up energy. Parker
Hitchcock came into the car from the smoking-room.
"We can get off at Twenty -second Street," he called
■out eagerly. "You're coming, doctor?"
Sommers shook his head negatively, and Miss Hitch-
cock, who was putting on her veil, did not urge him to
join them. The Hitchcock carriage was waiting outside
the Twenty-second Street station, and, as the train
moved on, Sommers could see Colonel Hitchcock's bent
figure through the open window.
338 ithe^web oe* 'life;
When Sommers left the train at the central station,
the September twilight had already fallen; and as he
crossed the strip of park -where the troops had biv-
ouacked during the strike, the encircling buildings were
brilliantly outlined in the evening mist by countless
points of light. The scene from Twelfth St reet north to
the river, flanked by railroad yards and grim buildings,
was an animated circle of a modern inferno. The cross
streets intersecting the lofty buildings were dim, canon-
like abysses, in which purple fog floated lethargically.
The air was foul with the gas from countless locomotives,
and thick with smoke and- the mist of the lake. And
through this earthy steam, -the" -myriad lights from the
facades of the big buildings shone with suffused splendor.
It was large and vague and, above all, gay, with the grim
vivacity of a city of shades. Streams of ..people were
flowing toward the railroad, up and down the boulevard,
in and out of the large hotels. A murmur of living,
striving humanity rose into the murky air; and from
a distance, through the abysses of the cross streets,
sounded the deeper roar of the. city.
The half -forgotten note of the place struck sharply upon
the doctor's ear. It excited him in some strange way.
Two years had dropped from his life, and againTie Was
turning, turning, with the beat of the great machine.
" Yes, he lost that — -what was left when you sold for
him," Miss M'Gann admitted dejectedly. "And so we
had to start over again. Part of it was mine, too."
" Did he put your savings in ? " Sommers asked
"It was that Dresser man. I wish we'd never laid
eyes on him — he kept getting tips from Carson, the
man who owned most of his paper. I guess Carson
didn't take much interest in giving Mm the right tip, or
perhaps Dresser didn't give us what he knew straight
out. Anyway, Jack's been losing! "
"So you aren't married?" Sommers asked.
"Jack's pride is up. You see he wanted to begin
with a nice flat/hot live on here in this boarding-house.
And I was to leave the school. But I guess there isn't
much chance now. You've been away a long time — to
the war ? "
They were sitting on the steps of the Keystone, which
at this hour in the morning they had to themselves.
Miss M'Gann's glory of dress had faded, together with
the volubility of her talk, and the schoolroom air had
blanched her high color.
"Jack wanted to go off to Cuba," she continued.
"But he got sick again, worrying over stocks, and I
guess it was just as well. If he don't keep straight now,
340 THE WEB OF LIFE
and brace up, I'll let him go. I'm not the one to hang
around all my life for a silly."
" Perhaps that!s what made him try the market again,"
" No, it was Dresser. He was sporting a lot of money
and going with high-toned folks, and it made Jack
"You had better marry him, hadn't you?"
Miss M'Gann moved uneasily on the stone seat.
"He's down there again to-day, I just know. He's
given up the Baking Powder place, — they crowded him
out in the reorganization, — and Dresser got him a place
"Do you mean he's at the broker's?"
Miss M'Gann nodded and then added :
" Do you remember Dr. Leonard ? Well, he made a
pile out of a trust, some dentist-tools combine, I think."
"I am glad of it," Sommers said heartily, "and I
hope he'll keep it."
"Are you going to stay in Chicago?" Miss M'Gann
asked, with renewed curiosity. "We shall be glad to see
you at the Keystone."
Sommers got up to leave, and asked for Webber's
address in the city. " I may look him up," he explained.
" I wish you could keep him away from Dresser. The
converted socialist is likely to be a bad lot."
"Socialist!" Miss M'Gann exclaimed disdainfully.
"He isn't any socialist. He's after a rich girl."
Sommers left Miss M'Gann with a half -defined purpose
THE WEB OF LIFE 341
of finding Webber and inducing him to give up the vain
hope of rivalling the editor of The Investor's Monthly.
He had always liked the clerk, and when he had helped
to pull him out of the market without loss before, he
had thought all would go well. But the optimism of the
hour had proved too much for Webber's will. Carson's
cheap and plentiful stocks had made it dangerously easy
for every office boy to "invest." If Webber had been
making money these last months, it would be useless to
advise him; but if the erratic market had gone against
him, he might be saved.
On the way to the city he called at St. Isidore's to see
if any one in that hive would remember him. The little
nurse, whom he recalled as one of the assistants at Pres-
ton's operation, had now attained the dignity of the
"black band." There was hardly anyone else who knew
him, except the elevator boy; and he was leaving when
he met Dr. Knowles, an old physician, who had a large,
old-fashioned family practice in an unfashionable quarter
of the city. Dr. Knowles had once been kind to the
younger doctor, and now he seemed glad to meet him
again. From him Sommers learned that Lindsay had
about given up his practice. The " other -things, " thanks
to his intimacy with Porter, and more lately with Car-
son, had put him outside the petty needs of professional
earnings. Dr. Knowles himself was thinking of retir-
ing, he told Sommers, not with his coffers full of trust
certificates, but with a few thousand dollars, enough to
keep him beyond want. They talked for a long time,
and at the end Dr. Knowles asked Sommers to consider
342 THE WEB OF LIEE
taking over his practice. "It isn't very swell," lie
explained good-humoredly. " And I don't want you to
kill off my poor patients. But there are enough pick-
ings for a reasonable man who doesn't practise for
money." Sommers promised to see him in a few days,
and started for the office where Webber worked.
Lindsay's final success amused him. He had heard a
good deal about Porter and Carson ; their operations,
reported vaguely by the public, interested him. They
formed a kind of partnership, evidently. Porter
"financed" the schemes that Carson concocted and
talked into being. And a following of small people
gleaned in their train. Lindsay probably had gleaned
more than the others. It was all the better, Sommers
reflected, for the state of the medical profession.
As he sauntered down La Salle Street, the air of the
pavement breathed the optimism of the hour. Sommers
was amazed at the number of brokers' offices, at the
streams of men going and coming around these busy
booths. The war was over, or practically over, and
speculation was brisker than ever. To be sure, the bills
for the war were not paid, but success was in the air,
and every one was striving to exploit that success in
his own behalf. Sommers passed the blazing sign of
White and Einstein; the firm had taken larger offices
this year. Sommers stopped and looked at the broad
windows, and then, reflecting that he had nothing to do
before dining with the Hitchcocks except to see Webber,
he went in with a file of other men.
White and Einstein's offices were much more re-
THE WEB OP LIFE 343
splendent than the little room in the basement, where
they -had started two years before. There were many
glass partitions and much mahogany-stained furniture.
In the large room, where the quotations were posted,
little rows of chairs were ranged before the blackboards,
so that the weary patrons could sit and watch the game.
The Chicago stocks had a blackboard to themselves,
and this was covered with the longest lines of figures.
Iron, Steel, Tobacco, Eadiators, Vinegar, Oil, Leather,
Spices, Tin, Candles, Biscuit, Eag, — the names of the
" industrials " read like an inventory of a country store.
"Eag" seemed the favorite of the hour; one boy was
kept busy in posting the long line of quotations from the
afternoon session of the Exchange. A group of specta-
tors watched the jumps as quotation varied from quota-
tion under the rapid chalk of the office boy.
The place was feverish with excitement, which Som-
mers could feel rather than read in the dull faces of the
men. From time to time White or Einstein bobbed out
of an inner office, or a telephone booth, and joined the
watchers before the blackboards. Their detached air
and genial smiles gave them the. appearance of success-
ful hosts. White recognized Sommers and nodded,
with one eye on the board. "Bag's acting queer," he
said casually in the doctor's ear. "Are you in the
market? Eag is Carson's latest — ain't gone through
yet, and there are signs the market's glutted. Look at
that thing slide, waltz ! Gee, there'll be sore heads
to-morrow ! "
Sommers leaned forward and touched Webber, who,
344 THE WEB OF LIFE
with open mouth, was following the figures. Webber
turned round, but his head went back to the board. The
glance he had given was empty — the glance of the
"Your young friend's got hit," White remarked apa-
thetically. " He shouldn't try to play marbles with this
crowd. Carson is just chucking new stocks at the pub-
lic. But he has a clique with him that can do any-
In spite of this opinion " Kag " tottered and wavered.
Eumors rapidly spread among the onlookers that Carson
had failed to put "Kag" through; that the consolidated
companies would fall asunder on the morrow, like badly
glued veneer; that Porter " had gone back on Carson"
and was selling the stock. The quotations fell : common
stock 60, 59, 56, 50, 45, 48, 50, 52, 45, 40 — so ran the
dazzling line of figures across the blackboard, again and
" There'll be fun to-morrow, " White remarked, moving
away. "Better come in and see Vinegar and Oil and
the rest of Carson's list get a black eye."
Sommers touched Webber, then shook him gently,
"What is it this time? Iron and Distillery ?"
"Rag," Webber snapped, recognizing the doctor.
"And I'm done for this time sure thing — every red
copper. I made two thousand last week on Tin, and this
morning I chucked the whole pile into Rag."
"You'd better come with me, " Sommers urged. " The
Exchange is closing for to-day, anyway."
THE WEB OF LIFE 345
The clerk laughed, and replied : " Let's have a drink.
I've just got enough to get drunk on."
"You're drunk already," the doctor answered gruffly.
"I'll be drunker before the morning," the clerk
remarked, with a feeble laugh. " I wish I had Dresser
here; I'd like to pound him once."
That desire was repeated in the looks of many men,
who were still glowering at the afternoon's quotations.
Carson, the idol of the new "promotions," seemed to be
the man most in demand for pounding. Einstein was
explaining to a savage customer why he had advised him
to buy "Bag."
" I got it over the telephone this morning from a man
very close to Carson that Rag was the thing, the peach
of the whole lot. He said it was slated to cross Biscuit
The man growled and ground a cigar stub into the
" Come, we'll have a drink," a white-faced young fel-
low called out to an old man, an acquaintance of the
hour. " Somebody's got my money ! " The two passed
out arm in arm.
Webber had his drink, and then another. Then he
leaned back in the embrasure of the bar-room window
and looked at Sommers.
"I guess it's the lake this time. I can't go back to
her and tell her it's all up."
Sommers watched the man closely, trying to determine
how far the disease had gone. Webber's vain, rather
weak face was disguised with a beard, which made him
S46 THE WEB OE LIFE
look older than lie was, and the arm that rested on the
table trembled nervously from the flaccid fingers to the
" They've put up some trick between them," Webber
continued, in a grumbling tone. "Carson or Porter is
making something by selling Eag. They'd ought to be
in the penitentiary."
" What rot ! " Sommers remarked deliberately. " They've
beaten you at your game, and they will every time, be-
cause they have more nerve than you, and because they
know more. There's no use in damning them. You'd
do the same thing if you knew when to do it."
" They're nothing but sharps ! " the clerk protested
feebly, insistent like a child on his idea that some one
had done him a personal injury.
Sommers shrugged his shoulders in despair. " I must
be going," he said at last. " I don't suppose you'll take
my advice, and perhaps the lake would be the best thing
for you. But you'd better try it again — it's just as well
that everything has gone this time. There won't be any
chance of going back to the game. Tell her, and if she'll
take you, marry her at once, and start with the little
people. Or stay here and have a few more drinks," he
added, as he read the irresolute look upon Webber's face.
The clerk rose wearily and followed the doctor into
the street, as if afraid of being alone.
•"You needn't be so rough," he muttered. "There are
lots of the big fellows who started the same way — in
the market, wheat or stocks. And I had a little ambi-
tion to be something better than a clerk. I wanted her
THE WEB OP LIEE 347
to have something different. She's as good as those girls
Dresser is always talking to her about."
Sommers made no reply to his defence, but walked
slowly, accommodating his pace to Webber's weary steps.
When they reached Michigan Avenue, he stopped and
" I should put the lake off, this time, and make up my
mind to be a little fellow."
Webber shook hands listlessly and started toward the
railroad station with his drooping, irresolute gait. Som-
mers watched him until his figure merged with the hur-
rying crowd. Habit was taking the clerk to the suburban
train, and habit would take him to the Keystone and
Miss M'Gann instead of to the lake. Habit and Miss
M'Gann would probably take him back to his desk. But
the disease had gone pretty far, and if he recovered, Som-
mers judged, he would never regain his elasticity, his
hope. He would be haunted by a memory of hot desires,
of feeble defeat.
The wavering clerk had succumbed to the mood of
the hour. And the mood of the hour in this corner
of the universe was hopeful for weak and strong alike.
Cheap optimism, Sommers would have called it once, but
now it seemed to him the natural temper of the world.
With this hope suffused over their lives, men struggled
on — for what ? No one knew. Not merely for plunder,
nor for power, nor for enjoyment. Each one might be-
lieve these to be the gifts of the gods, while he kept his
eyes solely on himself. But when he turned his gaze
outward, he knew that these were not the spur of
348 THE WEB OF LIFE
human energy. In striving restlessly to get plunder
and power and joy, men wove the mysterious web of life
for ends no human mind could know. Carson built his
rickety companies and played his knavish tricks upon
the gullible public, of whom Webber was one. Brome
Porter rooted here and there in the industrial world,
and fattened himself upon all spoils. These had to be ;
they were the tools of the hour. But indifferent alike to
them and to Webber, the affairs of men ebbed and flowed
in the resistless tide of fate.
The dinner at the Hitchcocks' was very simple. Par-
ker had gone out "to enjoy his success in not getting to
Cuba," as Colonel Hitchcock expressed it grimly. The
old merchant's manner toward the doctor was cordial,
but constrained. At times during the dinner Sommers
found Colonel Hitchcock's eyes resting upon him, as if
he were trying to understand him. Sommers was con-
scious of the fact that Lindsay had probably done his
best to paint his character in an unflattering light; and
though he knew that the old colonel's shrewdness and
kindliness would not permit him to accept bitter gossip
at its face value, yet there must have been enough in his
career to lead to speculation. While they were smoking,
Colonel Hitchcock remarked :
"So you're back in Chicago. Do you think you'll
Sommers described the offer Dr. Knowles had made.
" I used to see Knowles, — a West Side man, — not very
able as a money-getter, I guess, but a good fellow,"
Colonel Hitchcock emitted meditatively.
"He has a very commonplace practice," Sommers
replied. "An old-fashioned kind of practice."
"Do you think you'll like Chicago any better?"
Colonel Hitchcock asked bluntly.
"I haven't thought much about that," the doctor
350 THE WEB OP LIFE
admitted, uncomfortably. He felt that the kind old mer-
chant had lost whatever interest he might have had in
him. Any man who played ducks and drakes with his
chances in life was not to be depended upon, according
to Colonel Hitchcock's philosophy. And a man who
could not be depended upon to do the rational thing was
more or less dangerous. It was easier for him to under-
stand Parker's defects than Sommers's wilfulness. They
were both lamentable eccentricities.
"Chicago isn't what it was," the old man resumed
reminiscently. "It's too big, and there is too much
speculation. A man is rich to-day and poor to-morrow.
That sort of thing used to be confined to the Board of
Trade, but now it's everywhere, in legitimate business.
People don't seem to be willing to work hard for suc-
cess." He relapsed into silence, and shortly after went
upstairs, saying as he excused himself, — " Hope we shall
see you again, Dr. Sommers."
When Colonel Hitchcock had left the room, Miss
Hitchcock said, as if to remove the sting of her father's
" Uncle Brome's transactions worry papa, — for a time
papa was deeply involved in one of his schemes, — ■ and
he worries over Parker, too. He doesn't like to think of
— what will happen when he is dead. Parker will have
a good deal of money, more than he will know what to
do with. It's sad, don't you think so? To be ending
one's life with a feeling that you have failed to make
permanent your ideals, to leave things stable in your
family at least ? "
THE "WEB OE LIFE 351
Instead of replying Sommers left his chair and walked
aimlessly about the room. At last he came back to the
large table near which Miss Hitchcock was seated.
" You know why I came to-night," he began nervously.
Miss Hitchcock put down the book she held in her
hands and turned her face to him.
" Will you help me — to live? " he said bluntly.
She rose from her seat, and, with a slight smile of
" The past, — " Sommers stammered. " You know it
all better than any one else."
" I would not have it different, not one thing changed, "
she protested with warmth. " What I cannot understand
in it, I will believe was best for you and for me."
"And the lack of success, the failure?" Sommers
questioned eagerly, a touch of fear in his voice. " I am
asking much and giving very little."
" You understand so badly ! " The smile this time was
sad. "I shall never know that it is failure."
Miss Hitchcock's wedding was extremely quiet. It
was regarded by all but the two persons immediately
concerned as an eccentric mistake. Even Colonel
Hitchcock, to- whom Louise was almost infallible,
could not trust himself to discuss with her, her decision
to marry Dr. Sommers. It was all a sign of the irra-
tional drift of things that seemed to thwart his energetic,
honorable life. Even Sommers's attitude in the frank
talk the two men had about the marriage offended the
old merchant. Sommers had met his distant references
to money matters by saying bluntly that he and Louise
had decided it would be best for them not to be the bene-
ficiaries of Colonel Hitchcock's wealth to any large
extent. He wished it distinctly understood that little
was to be done for them now, or in the future by
bequest. Louise had agreed with him that for many
reasons their lives would be happier without the expecta-
tion of unearned wealth. He did not explain that one
potent reason for their decision in this matter was the
hope they had that Colonel Hitchcock would realize the
futility of leaving any considerable sum of money to
Parker, and would finally place his money where it
could be useful to the community in which he had earned
it. Colonel Hitchcock rather resented the doctor's
THE WEB OE LIFE 353
independence, and, at the same time, disliked the direct
reference to his fortune. Those matters arranged them-
selves discreetly in families, and if Louise had children,
■why . . .
It did not take Louise and Sommers long, however, to
convince Colonel Hitchcock that they were absolutely
sincere in their decision, and to interest him in methods
of returning his wealth, at his death, to the world. As
the months -wore on, and Sommers settled into the peace-
ful routine of Dr. Kuowles's mediocre practice, Colonel
Hitchcock revised, to a certain extent, his judgment of
the marriage. It must always remain a mystery to him,
however, that the able young surgeon neglected the
brilliant opportunities he had on coming to Chicago,
and had, apparently, thrown away four years of his life.
Probably he attributed this mistake to the young doctor's
ignorance of the world, due to the regrettable fact that
Dr. Isaac Sommers had remained in Marion, Ohio, in-
stead of courting cosmopolitan experiences in Chicago.
When his grandchild came, he saw that Louise was
entirely happy, and he was content. Neither Louise
nor Sommers looked back into the past, or troubled
themselves about the future. The practice which Dr.
Knowles had left, if not lucrative, was sufficiently large
and varied to satisfy Sommers.
Brome Porter had transferred all his interests to New
York. He had recouped himself by selling "Bag"
short before it was really launched and by some other
clever strokes of stock manipulation, and had under-
taken at length the much-needed trip to Carlsbad. The
354 THE WEB OF LIFE *¥'
suspicion that Porter had won back the money he owed
to Colonel Hitchcock by a trick upon the small fry of
speculators, such as Webber, had its influence in the
feeling which Sommers and his wife had about the Hitch-
cock money. The last move of the " operator " had made
something of a scandal in Chicago, for many of Porter's
friends and acquaintances lost heavily in "Rag," and
felt sore because "they had been left on the outside."
If Porter was not in good odor in Chicago, Carson's
name was anathema, not only to a host of little spec-
ulators, who had followed this ingenious promoter's
star, but to substantial men of wealth as well. After
the first flush of optimism, people began to examine
Carson's specialties, and found them very rotten. Car-
son, and those who were near him in these companies,
it turned out, had got their holdings at low figures and
made money when those not equally favored lost. When
" Rag " went to pieces, it was rumored that Carson had
been caught in his own leaky tub; but, later, it turned
out that Carson and Porter had had an understanding in
this affair. "Rag" was never meant to "go." So Car-
son betook himself to Europe, and the great Sargent was
removed from public exhibition to a storage warehouse.
In some future generation, on the disintegration of the
Carson family, the portrait may come back to the world
again, labelled "A Soldier of Fortune."
Sommers met Dr. Lindsay at rare intervals ; the great
specialist treated him with a nice discrimination of
values, adjusting the contempt he felt for the successor
of Dr. Knowles to the respect he felt for the son-in-law
THE WEB OF LIFE 355
of Colonel Alexander Hitchcock. Eeport had it that
Lindsay had been forced to return to office practice after
virtually retiring from the profession. And, in the
fickle world of Chicago, the offices on the top floor of the
Athenian Building did not "take in " what they once had
gathered. For this as well as other reasons Sommers
was not surprised when his wife opened Miss Laura
Lindsay's wedding cards one morning, and read out the
name of the intended bridegroom, Mr. Samuel Thompson
"Shall we go?" Louise asked, scrutinizing the cards
with feminine keenness.
"I hare reasons for not going," Sommers answered
hesitatingly. " But you used to know Laura Lindsay,
and — "
"I think she will not miss me," Louise answered
quickly. "It was queer, though," she continued, idly
waving the invitation to and fro, " that a girl like Laura
should marry a man like Dresser."
" Did I ever hear you say that it was to be expected
that Miss Blank should marry Mr. Blank?" her hus-
band asked. "In this case I think it is beautifully
"But he wasjjot exactjy^in our set, and you once said
he was given to the*ies, was turned out of a place on
account of the ideas'he held, didn't you? "
"He has seen the folly -of those ideas," Sommers
responded dryly. " He has becQpfe a bond broker, and
has a neat little office in theStdnlding where White and
Einstein had their trade."
356 THE WEB OF LIES
"Well," Mrs. Sommers insisted, "Laura never was
what you might call serious."
" She has taught him a good deal, though, I have no
Mrs. Sommers looked puzzled.
"As other excellent women have taught other men,"
the doctor added, with a laugh.
"What shall we send them?" his wife asked, disre-
garding the flippancy of the remark.
"A handsomely bound copy of the 'Eeport of the Com-
mission to Examine into the Chicago Strike, June-
As Louise failed to see the point, he remarked :
" I think I hear your son talking about something more
important. Shall we go upstairs to see him? I must
be off in a few minutes."
They watched the little child without speaking, while
he cautiously manipulated his arms and interested
himself in the puzzle of his own anatomy.
"What tremendous faith! " Sommers exclaimed at last.
"In the good of it all — in life."
FW SK Nor